Piano Festival for NADSA’s 75th Belated Birthday Celebration

Concert date: 10 March 2023
Reviewed by: JRC

Martin Roscoe, Noriko Ogawa and Margaret Fingerhut after their concert at the Courtenay Centre, with sponsors Jim and Penelope Putz

A unique happening.

BBC Radio 3’s In Tune last Thursday talked of Richard Chambers’ Mad Idea down in Newton Abbot. Madness is difficult to define, but certainly there were threads of it in last Friday’s NADSA concert. The audience came anticipating an evening chock-full of musical nuggets; as the evening progressed we learnt that there were cuts to the overlong programme. The number of programme changes, the proportion of speech to music, the virtually impromptu performance of some duet and double piano pieces, not to mention having three internationally established pianists on stage together, made for a unique evening to remember, for all concerned!

A feature of this Piano Festival’s inaugural concert [to celebrate NADSA’s 75th Birthday] was that Chairman Jim Putz gave an informative narrative of the society’s history. For people like myself who could remember hearing, when a small boy, such performers as Jacqueline du Pre and Leon Goossens, this triggered memories of peering over the balcony of St Mary’s Hall at such famous glitterati. This could have been a splendid pre-concert talk in its own right.

Richard Chambers explained how he had been programme secretary of NADSA for many years during which time there had been repeat performances by several illustrious pianists. His vision was to bring together three of these pianists for this Piano Festival week-end of concerts. Tight scheduling was known for Noriko Ogawa, who needed to be in Tel Aviv for adjudication and a Rachmaninov Concerto I performance the following day. Unforeseen, was that flautist, Judith Hall, also scheduled to be performing for NADSA, would unfortunately become indisposed a couple months ago.

With such an extraordinary happening, even by international standards, I was intrigued to look at the three pianist’s programme choices. In these days of severe retribution against any hint of gender stereotyping, I found it amusing to note that picture-painting, love and dances were to be performed by Margaret and Noriko, whereas the more macho Beethoven and Dohnayi’s Rhapsody in C was Martin’s choice. Of course, when there were four hands in the transcriptions of Arnold and Mozart, I wondered who would be deputising for an orchestra. Such speculation had to be cast aside as Dohnayi was dropped, and the Mozart Concerto transcription morphed into Grieg’s Arrangement of a Mozart Sonata.

Debussy’s Petite Suite mercifully did remain intact as the duet for Margaret and Noriko. It was a treat to hear again ‘En bateau’ the day after their Radio 3 performance. Ripples of water and a floating melody were languidly evocative, - a wonderful blend of romanticism and impressionism. High stepping horses and whirring wheels of ‘Cortege’ slowed for a view of the expansive exterior, before trotting back to base. The ‘Menuet’ provided another contrast, being delicate and restrained, whereas the final highly-animated ‘Ballet’ with its balletic movements, crossed the imagination as the piece drew to a dramatic conclusion.

Debussy’s Estampes were cut from three to one [sadly ‘Pagodes’ and ‘La Soiree dans Grenade’ went], but Noriko gave a very spirited and convincing performance of torrents of rain, squalls, a brief calm interlude, and a finale shutting the door on more torrents.

Noriko’s playing of Debussy’s ‘L’Isle Joyeuse’ was also cut, but Martin Roscoe’s Beethoven Sonata No 31 Op 110 was our next treat. This, a late work of Beethoven, is laden with richness of form and also great emotion. I was hugely impressed by the nuanced and sensitive rendition Martin gave us. I often think ‘it is by your pianissimos you will be judged’, as a counterbalance to the ‘ the louder and faster they play, the more the audience will clap’ brigade. But an effective musical performance needs so much more than dynamics alone: heart and soul were here. This was a performance I will treasure.

Suk’s ‘Love Song’ Op7 No1 was a great contrast of style. Probably considered as unfashionable by some, and thus recently neglected, it is however not only a favourite of Margaret but, she informed us, Barry Humphries wanted it played at this funeral. Its lush romanticism was given full amp by Margaret and a peaceful conclusion was superbly held.

Margaret took us to a very different place via Bartok’s ‘Romanian Dances’, and then Noriko and Martin, as a duet, played a transcription of Arnold’s English Dances. Possibly because of the ‘Englishness’, I found myself recalling my mother and great-aunt playing duets at a family soiree, - this was music-making of a kind which I fear seldom happens today.

Our finale was a mix of the very familiar Mozart sonata themes with their less familiar arrangement by Grieg. This was performed by Martin and Noriko on two dissimilar pianos, the timbres of which blended surprisingly well.

Newton Abbot should be proud that it hosted three internationally famous pianists together in one Piano Festival Weekend. We were privileged to witness the keeping alive of some composer’s flames of inspiration. How often in life one finds that it is amongst madness that jewels are found, certainly there were musical gems to cherish from this evening.

This concert was sponsored by Rathbone Investment Management, and James and Penelope Putz

NADSA Concert, Friday 10th March 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.