Martyna Jatkauskaita at Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight 2015-04-25

25 Apr

martynaWolverton Hall is properly in the countryside but near enough to civilisation to make it easily accessible. The owners have made it a specialist concert venue accommodating around 60 souls in the informal setting of a cosy but splendid Jacobean-cum-Queen-Anne drawing room. Click here for details of upcoming concerts:

Tonight’s performer was the remarkable young Lithuanian pianist Martyna Jatkauskaite Introduced with evident fondness by our hosts, Ms Jatkauskaite treated us to a tour de force of pianistic prowess.

Artists of this calibre can be fragile souls, wont to fiddle with piano stools, sit for several seconds calming themselves, looking heavenward for inspiration and the like. Jatkauskaite is the polar opposite: an obvious devotee of the ‘let’s just get on with it’ school of performing, she launched without a second’s delay into the arresting opening chords of Prokofiev’s Sarcasms, Op 17. This wittily named suite contains some highly inventive themes and is not easy listening. Nevertheless it was tonight, in the hands of our artist, engaging, interesting music.

To describe Ms Jatkauskaite as a force of nature is to fail to do justice to her seriousness of purpose, almost intimidating presence and intensity as a performer. The glamorous persona depicted on her promotional materials is utterly not the person you encounter in the flesh. To me she seemed quite fearsome, like a Viking warrior or some kind of Marvel superhero, here to deploy her skill like a weapon to conquer rather than something to show off or struggle with. If victory was her intention, she succeeded, with a no-holds-barred exposition of full-on, take-it-or-leave-it, naked pianism.

Her second offering, Schubert’s Impromptus Op. 142, Nos.1,2,3 & 4, was delivered with all the raw commitment these unforgettable gems deserve. The term ‘Romantic’, as is often applied to Schubert, Chopin and their contemporaries, sometimes implies a kind of winsome otherworldliness full of delicate emotion. Nothing could be further from the truth as far as these composers are concerned. In the case of Schubert, his entrancing melodies are underpinned by visceral power-chords and complex chromatic variety. With Chopin, the breathtaking range of expression, musical refinement and depth in his works always appeals on many levels. These are natural materials for Jatkauskaite to mould in the furnace of her artistry. Her intensity of focus is, to use the word in its correct sense, awesome to behold. Coupled with total technical mastery, this means that the richness of the music can come out in full.

WP_20150425_20_23_40_ProThe interval, during which we partook of refreshments in the delightful kitchen area, gave me a chance to snap the venerable Bechstein that submitted to the evening’s ravishing by our pianist.

Part two of the concert consisted of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 35. Again Ms Jatkauskaite launched with fiery vigour straight into the turbulent first movement. She proved here, as she had earlier with the Schubert, that she possesses the refined control necessary to render meaningfully the many-faceted emotional complexity of such a piece. The lovable melodies in both the first and second movements were tenderly given. Judicious pauses, rubato and full-spectrum dynamic control combined to give a satisfying delivery. Her Funeral March merged reflective sensitivity with properly meaty, crashing chords. Chopin’s enigmatic finale I must confess defeats my musical senses every time. She certainly seemed to know what she was saying with it however.

This might indeed sum up her performance and from what it showed, her personality as a performer: she knows exactly what she is going to say, she knows exactly how to say it and she means to say it powerfully and with total commitment. Watching her after the applause, listening to our host offering his thanks, the post-performance fire in her eyes was quite remarkable.

If you hear of her playing anywhere, my recommendation would be: do not hesitate to go.


Valentina Seferinova at South Downs College, 2014-10-23

26 Oct

The venue for Valentina Seferinova’s latest piano recital was South Downs College, situated on the hills above Portsmouth and host to a thriving music education department.

The background to this concert was unusual but intensely significant: the recent passing of the performer’s mother. Conceived as a traditional Bulgarian tribute given 40 days after a bereavement, the program contained pieces that Ms Seferinova’s mother had heard her play many times and had become favourites of hers; thus having a powerful personal meaning that communicated itself strongly in the performances.

I had rushed from work in a long lunch ‘hour’ and was thus not in the usually relaxed mode of the concertgoer. But this I think helped me to concentrate and avoid the sleepiness that almost always afflicts me at most evening affairs these days.

The program featured entirely Romantic works by Eastern European composers, of whom Ms Seferinova has become something of a champion both as a performer and recording artist.

The audience comprised students and guests, the average age of the former being about 19. The settling in phase was replete with those looks of intense, offended antipathy that only teenagers can do properly. I love to watch the faces of audiences at concerts to get a feel for the impact of the event and, as the concert progressed, the looks became, on almost every face, no less intensely rapt than they had earlier been disdainful. It helped that the program featured many pieces composed when their creators were also very young, and that the performer talked about each piece briefly before playing.

We heard works by Rachmaninov (Morceaux de fantaisie including the thunderous C Sharp Minor Prelude and the amusing and gorgeous Polichinelle); Chopin (an early Polonaise and the Nocturne Op. 55 No 1) along with pieces by, among others, Scriabin.

The highlight for me, leaving aside the inevitably gripping Rachmaninov Prelude, was Seferinova’s knowing and dynamically rich Chopin playing. The Nocturne, in its quiet moments, produced sustained, intensely engaged ‘no fidget’ responses from the youth whose normal state is one of eternal motion, a minor miracle in itself. The Polonaise had more depth and dynamic range than might be expected from its 15-year old composer and than that given on a recording by at least one world famous pianist that I have heard.

Ms Seferinova has a devoted following and goes from strength to strength both as a recording artist and on the local scene in Hampshire as a performer and teacher. I strongly recommend seeing her live, if you get the chance; it is a truly rewarding experience.

Wassailing the apple tree

10 Jan

Along Betty Haunt Lane, off Forest Road on the Isle of Wight lies Great Park Farm. Here this evening, in the cold and the drizzle and the dark, assembled a small group of people of varied ages, to take part in the ancient ritual of wassailing.

Following an opening and envigorating session of dance delivered by the truly exotic Moonshine Border Morris, with curiosity piqued, toes nipped and pates dampened, we trooped into an adjoining field to wassail the apple tree.

Our learned host explained that there are two main kinds of wassailing: first the visit and sharing of drink; second the gathering to invoke blessing for a specific purpose. Ours was the latter, in this case to request divine assistance in the fruiting of some apple trees.

There is something thrilling about taking part in a ritual whose origins go back hundreds or perhaps thousands of years. The proceedings included sharing of cider, soaking of bread toast in cider and placing the impregnated rounds in the branches of the needy tree. Then singing the wassail song and shouting to invoke the spirits made us forget the cold and rain.

Theis most unusual hour culminated in another session of dance. The thump of the drum, jiggle of the tambourine and lilt and sway of the accordion created an attractive backcloth upon which the magnificently attired and made up dancers wove their magic.

Things are happening out there in the fields…

Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05

6 Jan

Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05.

Sally Halsey at St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor 2014-01-05

5 Jan

Sally Halsey

St Catherine’s Church, Ventnor is a surprisingly vibrant musical venue. The church committee regularly puts on concerts of a high quality, attracting notable talent to this out-of-the-way seaside town on the Isle of Wight. Sally Halsey is a native Islander who has achieved considerable success as a pianist, specialising in chamber music, piano trios and accompaniment. Today she treated a near- capacity audience to a display of her abilities, offering works by Brahms, Scriabin, Mendelssohn and Beethoven. Played on an antique Blüthner, well-suited to the more intimate venue, these pieces delighted and transported us to a warmer, more elevated plane, countering the rain, wind and dreariness outside.

We began with Rhapsody in G minor Op 79 no. 2 by Brahms, rendered by Halsey with precision, musical depth and feeling. The richness of Brahms is a good way to draw in an audience, with an effect like sinking into a comfortable armchair, then being emotionally engaged and caressed by waves of sound. The next delight was Prelude and Nocturne for Left Hand by Scriabin. Introduced by Halsey as “reflective”, the piece was that and more. With sections unmistakably in the mould of Chopin’s Étude Op 25 No. 7, this meditative and beautiful work was delivered tenderly by the pianist.

The last offering before the interval was Rondo Capriccioso by Mendelssohn, faultlessly rendered.


After the short pause, we heard the complete Sonata Op 110 in A-flat major by Beethoven. Full of characteristically turbulent, varied motifs, the sonata contains fugues, fast and slow movements and a lot of emotional power. Halsey proved up to the challenge and the closing applause was genuine.

The perfect encore came in the former of Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1, a piece that suits perfectly Halsey’s strengths, which include the ability to connect with the all-important silences between notes and the sensibility to bring out the reflective dimension of music.

How fortunate we are to hear such art for free on a Sunday afternoon, performed for charity.

Christina Ortiz at Queen Elizabeth Hall, 2013-11-27

5 Jan

Christina Ortiz at QEH 2013-11-27

5 Jan

Chopin himself did not regard the large concert hall as the proper environment for the performance of his music. How can the pianist deliver effectively the dynamic contrasts required to portray fully the emotional and spiritual content of these wondrous compositions, when surrounded by such a large volume of space to fill with sound from a single instrument, however powerful? This was the task Christina Ortiz set herself in presenting all four Ballades and Scherzos of the Polish master in one programme.

The sheer artistic, emotional and physical feat of performing these monumental works together is impressive and requires great stamina and focus, qualities Ms Ortiz definitely possesses. She is also indisputably a master pianist of impeccable skill. Her fingers flew felicitously over the keyboard, rendering every motif and phrase to perfection. And yet something was not right. Too often I felt that the experience was akin to watching a pizza chef twirling and throwing the pastry aloft; or a cocktail barman gymnastically shaking and mixing drinks. Mesmerising, but does all that make the pizza tastier, the cocktail more potent?

It has been said and I agree, that a good part of the musical virtue of Chopin is expressed not in his melodies, though these are often gorgeous enough, but rather in the revolutionary use of harmony and counterpoint; the innovative development of musical forms; the exploitation of the piano’s dynamic range and expressive capabilities. I felt our performer, perhaps necessarily for the reasons outlined above, lost some of these virtues in her quest to conquer the pianistic challenge and to meet the expectations of the ticket-buying audience.

The melodies were woven beautifully and with very effective rubato over a confident accompaniment but some of the finer harmonic effects were missing, occasionally through excessive playing speed.

In all, somewhat disappointing, perhaps inevitably.


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