There was a full audience for the latest concert put on by Shipston’s Music Society in February.  Charles Matthews is a regular recitalist and always performs so beautifully bringing out the very best from the music he plays.

February’s concert was absolutely no exception.  Starting with Weber’s Introduction to the Dance, with its familiar and rousing melodies, Charles followed this with the tranquil Partita no 1 in B flat major.  The first half ended with Schubert’s Sonata in G Major which brought with it beautiful rhythms and fierce chords.  The second half began with Schubert again, and his Four Impromtus, which were played with delicacy and precision.   The evening ended with a piece known to anyone who has ever learned to play the piano, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (or to give it its proper title, Sonata quasi una fantasia) – but how lovely to hear it played by such a professional pianist, and it was a delightful ending to the concert.

The vote of thanks was given by former Chairman, Richard Baldwin.  Members left the Methodist Church feeling that this had been Charles’ best ever performance for us.  

That is, until the next one...

At the November meeting of the Shipston Music Society, musician Howard Skempton gave a talk entitled “What makes a composer?” Howard has worked as a composer, accordionist and music publisher. He studied in London with Cornelius Cardew and has won several awards for some of his compositions. He is now a lecturer in composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Throughout the evening Howard was assisted by Charles Matthews at the keyboard, playing with his usual expertise, all the examples required to illustrate the points being made.

Howard began by explaining that as a 17 year old, his piano teacher had allowed him to learn whatever he chose, but then things changed when his next teacher presented him with a planned scheme to widen his knowledge and improve his technique! He began to listen to lots of music in a wide variety of styles and became interested in the compositions of John Cage. Immediately he was inspired to start writing his own music in this more modern genre. He experimented with ideas to try to find the necessary harmonic structure and choice of instruments to achieve the desired results.

In 1973 he composed a piece for accordion, later arranging it for the piano. We heard the piano arrangement first before Howard played the original on his accordion – a very interesting listening experience.

The evening ended with extracts from a song cycle based on the poem “Man and Bat” by D.H.Laurence. Composed in 2017 it is scored for baritone soloist with string quartet, double bass and piano and describes the antics which ensued during the man’s efforts to persuade the bat to fly out of the room. It was a fitting finale to a fascinating journey from inspired teenager to widely acclaimed composer

October saw our annual Young Musicians’ concert and we were delighted to welcome back Jessica Madden, a young pianist currently at King Edward VI School, Stratford, who had played for us last year. Jessica had used the fee she received last year to purchase music by Clara Schumann, a composer who is enjoying a revival coinciding with the 200th anniversary of her birth this year, and this was an opportunity for her to play some of the music, which is not generally so well known.

Jessica’s performance last year was mature and confident and this year we could see how she had grown both as a musician and performer.   She opened her concert began with J. S. Bach’s Partita 5: Praeambulum BWV 829 played with brio and sparkle.  The tone changed with the delightful Three Sketches by Frank Bridge April, Rosemary and Valse Capriceuse written in 1906.  Jessica played with delicacy and sureness of touch, and afterwards informed us that, like Bridge, Jessica plays the violin as well as the piano.

Clara Schumann wrote Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann in 1853 and presented the music to him on his birthday on 8th June that year.   The first performance however was given not to her husband as one might expect, but to Johannes Brahms who was said to be deeply affected by it – and also by Clara herself with whom he had an affair!    It was also, Jessica told us, the last piece of music she heard before she died.  Jessica’s abilities thoroughly captured the varying moods of the variations. Following on from the Variations, Jessica performed Robert Schumann’s Romance in F sharp minor, followed by the powerful chords of Brahms’ Rhapsody in G minor.

On a lighter note, the concert ended with The Man I Love by Gershwin sensitively and beautifully played.

We were delighted to hear music both familiar and less familiar played by Jessica, who has just started studying at the Birmingham Conservatoire alongside her 6th form school studies.  Her enthusiasm for performing was evident throughout the recital, and we wish this talented young musician every good fortune in the years to come.

At the first meeting of the new 2019/2020 season members of the Shipston Music Society were pleased to welcome a young classical guitarist. Michael Matthews was seven years old when he began to play the guitar and was immediately “hooked”! By 2018 he had been selected by the Concordia Foundation to perform in London and abroad, and he will shortly make his debut appearance at the Wigmore Hall.

The recital began with John Dowland’s “Lachrimae Pavan”; Fantasia No.7 which, although written originally for the lute, was given a very sympathetic performance by Matthew showing his skill in producing the soft, dulcet tones normally associated with the lute. Then followed six dance movements from Sonata ”L’Infidele” by Silvius Leopold Weiss, a german composer and lutenist.

In complete contrast the next composition was “Suite del Recuerdo” by Jose Luis Merlin which brought us into the realms of 20th century music. Born in Argentina, Merlin’s compositions show the influence of his Latin-American, Ukrainian-Jewish and Spanish roots. The six contrasting movements were played with all the rhythmic details and energy required and nimble fingerwork produced harmonics, giving the “Evocacion” an ethereal quality.

After the interval we heard “Nocturnal” by Benjamin Britten and “Sonata” by Joaquin Turina in which Matthew was able to demonstrate his deep understanding of each work and his ability to convey that to his audience.

The final piece was “Serenades of the Unicorn” by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. This was very much of the late 20th century and, as the title suggests, was a romp, played with amazing skill and lots of panache to which the audience responded with much enthusiastic applause.

Throughout the recital one was amazed at the truly formidable, technical skill of Michael Matthews and we are very grateful to the Tillett Trust for supporting him in his 2018/2019 recitals around the country. We wish him every success in his career.

The June meeting of the Shipston Music Society was held in St. Edmund’s Church as part of the Shipston Proms fortnight. The performers were Craig Ogdon and his wife Claire Bradshaw. Australian born classical guitarist Craig is one of the most exciting artists of his generation and in 2004 became the youngest instrumentalist to receive a Fellowship Award from the Royal Northern College of Music. He has performed concertos with many of the world’s leading orchestras and his recordings have received wide acclaim. Claire Bradshaw studied at the Royal Northern College of Music before completing her training at the National Opera Studio and was a finalist in the prestigious Kathleen Ferrier Awards. She has performed in concert, oratorio and opera throughout the world.

They presented a mixed programme beginning with “Music for a While” by Purcell – an ideal choice to highlight Claire’s rich mezzo voice. This was followed by some beautifully sustained singing in “Lascia ch’io Pianga by Handel and two Venetian Lieder by Schumann.

Before Craig began his solo guitar section he spent a few minutes explaining a little about  the instrument and the need for regular re-tuning throughout the programme. Then he began with movements from J.S. Bach’s Lute Suite no.3 which provided the opportunity to show his amazing technical skill: the melody was always clear above the intricate finger-work of the accompaniment. “Sevilla” by Albeniz captured the lively, rhythmic characteristics of the flamenco style with its contrasting major and minor sections and the loud spread chords. Two pieces by Gary Ryan followed. “Lough Caragh” a soft, rather wistful piece and “Rondo Rodeo”, as the name suggests, fast, and exciting  with extra “percussion” from Craig’s right hand and played with great aplomb!

The programme ended with a section for voice and guitar. Two folk songs arranged by Benjamin Britten; “I will give my Love an Apple” and “O Waly Waly” with some lovely “sotto voce” singing in the final verse. “Aranjuez” was Rodrigo’s own arrangement for voice and guitar of the main theme from his concerto, with text by his Turkish wife but translated into French! It was performed with a real feeling of longing. Finally two songs by Jerome Kern completed the programme. “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” and “All the Things You Are” were sung with a lightheartedness and demonstrated the ease with which Claire can slip from the traditional, trained style of singing into the more widely heard jazz style.

After much applause our two performers treated us to “It had to be You”. It was a fitting encore to a wonderful concert by two very talented (and busy!) people and I’m sure that many in the audience, like me, felt extremely privileged that Craig and Claire had found an opportunity in their schedules to perform in the Shipston Proms.

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