Thursday, 11 December 2008

In Review: Philip Fawcett’s Piano Recital at St. Peter’s Cathedral

A Review by Humble Sam

When our forefathers erected the first churches of Europe to worship God, they were certainly unaware that one day exceptional musicians would perform profound pieces of music in these houses of worship – musicians such as the distinguished pianist Philip Fawcett who appeared live last Friday, 5th December, at St. Peters Cathedral in Lancaster.

Dressed neat but casual, Lancastrian-born Fawcett performed on a well-tuned grand piano in front of St. Peter’s altar. He played deftly and travelled along the dynamic scale of piano music from subtlety to grace to forcefulness – whatever the score demanded. And this sounds somewhat misleading, for Fawcett played from memory alone. A pleasant thing to experience, as there was no-one hovering about waiting to leap to the piano and turn the sheets of the score.

The first piece of music on the menu was Mozart’s underrated Piano Sonata in B flat major. Fawcett played with light of touch and brought out the cheerful nature of Mozart’s compositions. His fingers moved Zen-like across the keyboard (gracefully with quiet determination) and the crystal clear yet warm sound of Mozart’s piano sonata emerged from the grand piano.

The second piece of music that evening was Sonatinas (‘mini sonatas’) 1, 2 & 3 by local composer David Jennings who was in the audience. It's not that often that one experiences a piece of Classical music with the composer in the audience and it is even less often that one experiences a piece of modern Classical music that is not dreadful. Jennings’ sonatinas were neither ridiculously reactionary nor horribly modern: they were delightful little pieces combining both traditional and modern aspects of composition. Sonatinas 1 & 2 contained Jacobean and Renaissance influences (Yep, Dowland’s hold over British music is still there) whereas Sonatina 3 had been inspired by Debussy’s piano work. The pieces had been originally composed when Jennings was only thirteen years of age. He shelved them soon afterwards but recently took them out of the cupboard and dusted them down – that is to say he rewrote them to combine musical maturity with youthful exuberance. Needless to say that Fawcett’s playing was effortless, as he and Jennings collaborate on a regular basis.

The second half of the evening kicked off with Edvard Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Opus 65. By hunching his back, splaying his fingers and lowering his head, Philip Fawcett tensed himself - only to let go through performing Grieg’s melancholic music. Fawcett’s intense trip-tropping over the keyboard reminded me of skiing down Alpine slopes in early June: melting ice beneath my skis, the fat warm sun glaring, pine trees around me, cows mooching among the boulders and the smell of blueberries and bergamot in my nostrils - a concoction of varying sensations that blended well together.

The last piece of the evening was officially Beethoven’s outstanding Sonata in F minor, Opus 57 – Appassionata. The music swirled, bounced around the cathedral, rested in our ears, bounced up again to swirl around the building and took me into a trance I rarely know of these days. And Fawcett enjoyed stimulating us with it. He would play with grim determination and than deftly switch moods with the occasional grin on his face. It was a spaced-out experience that left me exhausted but very happy.

And then there was the encore. As Fawcett himself pointed out, Beethoven’s Appassionata can’t be bettered when it comes to concluding an evening of piano music, but seeing as it had been and will continue to be a bitterly cold winter, Fawcett chose to round off proceedings with Grieg’s playful piece March of the Trolls – ‘a Norwegian piece of music for a Norwegian winter’ as the pianist put it.

Shame, however, that the attendance was so low. But more fool them, the fools that chose not to venture to St. Peter’s for a truly magnificent evening of piano recitals.

Even our forefathers were allegedly pleased by Fawcett’s performance.

© Jomar de Vrind, 2 Water Street, Lancaster, lA1 1HF Tel: 07792714860

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