By the evening of February 19th members of the Shipston Music Society were very relieved that the weather conditions had eased after the recent storm, thus enabling them to attend a piano recital by Charles Matthews. He studied at the Royal College of Music in London and as organ scholar at Trinity College, Cambridge and has won numerous awards. In 1999 he received First Prize at the Franz Liszt Organ Interpretation Competition in Budapest. He is an organ tutor at the Birmingham Conservatoire and is in great demand as a piano accompanist; he was featured a few months ago on TV accompanying a young Chinese violinist in a performance of “The Lark Ascending” by Vaughan Williams.

He opened his programme with Barcarolle no. 4 by Faure, a delightful piece with an arpeggio- like pattern to accompany the melody. In the middle section the sonorous legato melody is passed from one hand to the other before references to the opening theme bring the piece to its finale. Next we heard Chopin’s Waltz in Ab 0p. 69 no.1 which, with vitality and excitement, provided an excellent contrast.

The final work in the first half was “Mystical Swan in Blue” by Fiona Frank which is a seven movement sonata. After an extraordinary encounter at twilight with a swan on the banks of the River Wye in January 2021, in which “Her dazzling white feathers shone in the misty blue twilight…”  Fiona managed to capture some of this in the varied styles and contrasting features. From the lilting “barcarole – type” movement to the powerful, rhythmic and syncopated surge towards the finale, this prompted much discussion during the interval. Pianistically it is very challenging!

The main composition in the second half was “Schwanengesang” (Swan Song) by Schubert, arranged by Liszt.  It is a collection of 14 songs composed by Schubert near the end of his life and published after his death.  The themes are varied and the original compositions too are in contrasting styles. With Liszt’s arrangements for solo piano this becomes a real “Tour de force” and the performance given by Charles displayed his formidable technique, sense of style and ability to convey Schubert’s mastery of the song cycle to the listener.

Bringing the recital to a close was “The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” by Saint-Saens arranged by Siloti. Alexander Ilyich Siloti was born in the Ukraine in 1863 and died in 1945. This arrangement was yet another example of a simple melodic line being expanded into a complex and advanced major performance piece. The musical skill and stamina required is unbelievable but Charles showed no sign of being tired and was happy to chat to people afterwards. What an evening.

At last, on Friday 17th September, the members of the Shipston Music Society were able to meet and what a wonderful feeling it was to listen to live music-making again. Our recitalist was the cellist Tom Pickles who, after his visit in 2019, has won more acclaim as a talented performer both here and in Europe.

The programme began with the Allegro Appassionato by Saint-Saens which immediately displayed Tom’s technical skills. With his accompanist Charles Matthews – well known to Shipston audiences – this was a partnership of the highest level with superb synchronisation. The “Romance” by Delius followed, with its beautiful legato melody providing a gentle contrast before the Sonata no. 1 by Francis Routh, a present day composer. Immediately we were impressed by the complexity, rhythmic content and the tonal aspect of this 21st century piece. It was obvious that they had great fun playing this piece together. Six Studies in English Folksongs by Ralph Vaughan Williams brought us gently to the interval.

The Cello Suite no. 1 by J. S. Bach is part of the classic repertoire for advanced performers and requires a high level of technical and interpretive ability which Tom had no problem in displaying. After Sonata for Solo cello by Francis Routh, The Prelude by Ernest Moeran introduced a peaceful atmosphere and demonstrated the beautiful sonorous tone quality of Tom’s playing. Finally, Max Bruch’s Kol Nidrei completed the programme. Wistful and yearning in the introductory section, this was soon to be overshadowed by an angry loud chordal section. The very high level of technical ability required for this demonstrated why the accompanying skills of Charles are in such demand.

The Cradle Song by Frank Bridge was a fitting encore to an evening of music performed with feeling, superb technical ability and obvious enjoyment.

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 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.

At the Society's April meeting, Charles Matthews displayed his superb skill as an accompanist. This month we welcomed him back as a solo pianist with “Impressions of Spain”.

The programme contained a variety of pieces by Spanish composers and others from France, Poland and England/Australia. In the opening piece, “Waltz from the Canary Islands” by Saint-Saens, the first spread chord captured immediately the sound and spirit of the flamenco guitar. This then developed quickly into a lively waltz.

“Dances from Seville” by Geoffrey Allen (born 1927), composed in a more 20th century style, provided an interesting contrast. Coincidentally, Geoffrey is a distant relative of Charles Matthews who told us that his relative has written a total of seventeen piano sonatas (when the seventeenth is finished!)

Pieces by Albeniz, Ravel and Diez followed, then “Bolero” by Chopin. This rarely performed work had all the Chopin characteristics of rapid scale passages and lots of decorative features but still conveyed the feel of Spanish music. Later we heard “Three Dances from Spain” by Rodrigo and “Evening in Granada” by Debussy. This short piece with contrasting sections from fast and furious to slow and languid was a Tour de force accomplished with great technical skill, a real sense of style and a certain amount of panache! After several minutes of loud applause Charles returned and played “Andalucia” by Granados, a fitting encore to an extremely enjoyable evening of “Impressions of Spain”.

The March meeting of the Shipston Music Society featured cellist Tom Pickles, a graduate of the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire with accompanist Charles Matthews. During his time at the Conservatoire Tom was the winner of several prizes and awards and since then has performed in venues around the country.

From the first notes of Frank Bridge’s “Four Short Pieces” one was captivated by the deep, sonorous tone quality of Tom’s playing. The “Sonata no 2” by Francis Routh (present-day composer) is a powerful work displaying the wide compass of the cello and possible dynamic range. This was played with feeling and a real understanding of the music. At the end of the month Tom will perform it again at a concert with Francis Routh present. Then followed Sonata in D minor by Debussy and, after the interval, “Threnos” by John Tavener with its slow, elegiac opening featuring adjacent notes sounding together – one of Tavener’s “thumb prints”. Tom gave us a wonderful performance of it.

The programme ended with “Sonata in F, op.5” by Beethoven in which the final movement, Rondo, is marked Allego vivace. It was certainly played with great panache and skill by both performers and the superb synchronisation of Charles with his soloist in the extremely fast scale passages left us all breathless. After rapturous applause Tom returned and brought us “down to earth” with an encore of unaccompanied Bach to conclude a memorable evening of music for cello and piano by composers from the early 19th century to the present day.

Alexander Ardakov is a virtuoso performer and we counted ourselves very lucky indeed that he had agreed to come to Shipston from London on a hot day in June to give us what turned out to be a consummate piano recital for Shipston’s Music Society. The Society was also delighted to welcome the Mayor of Shipston Cllr Ian Cooper and his Consort, Tina Cooke, and Cllr Jo Barker & her husband Stuart as guests.

A change of venue for the Society for this one performance saw Alexander playing the grand piano in St Edmund’s Church and a programme of music to remember.  Starting off with four Scarlatti sonatas, Ardakov played them with a brilliance and lightness that brought them to life and the audience knew immediately that they were in for a treat of an evening.  The following pieces by Rameau and Daquin, Tambourine and Le Coucou, had their own unique melodies and style superbly illustrated on the piano.  

To end the first half Alexander played Beethoven’s Sonata no 17 in D minor known as the Tempest which brought all the hallmarks of a storm to life – tranquillity, the rising storm, a slowing down and then working to a climactic conclusion in the third movement. Beethoven’s seven variations on the theme of God Save the King (or Queen) in celebration of the Queen’s 92nd birthday was a fanciful piece played with precision and humour.

The second half started with Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, followed by Schuman’s Carnaval opus 9 which comprises 22 short pieces or variations based around four notes. Titles of variations included Papillons (Butterflies) and Promenade which speak for themselves, while others are dedicated to peers of the composer such as Chopin, Clara Schumann and violinist Paganini. The piano sang as the whole was performed with the fluency of a master of the keyboard. An evening full of melody was enjoyed by a good audience who applauded enthusiastically. Two well known encore pieces – a Chopin waltz and Grieg’s wedding day at Troldhaugen, brought the evening to a brilliant close.  

Charles Matthews is a popular local musician well known in Shipston and we were delighted to welcome him back for our concert in May.   As usual Charles gave us a varied and enjoyable musical programme, and introduced many in the audience to Leonard Salzado.  An English composer credited with a large output of music, Salzado is probably best known for the brief trumpet fanfare originally used for Open University broadcasts on the BBC.  Song of the Night which Charles played for us was a beautifully atmospheric  piece which conveyed the uncertainties of the night and darkness and clearly paid tribute to Salzado’s Spanish heritage.  

Charles’ playing of Schubert’s Impromptu in B flat major with all its variations was a delight, as was Franck’s melodic and demanding Prelude, Chorale & Fugue.  The second half of the evening opened with Clara Schumann’s Variations on a theme of Robert Schumann which seems to be hardly ever heard.  Charles described her as “an extraordinary lady”, and this piece certainly illustrates her accomplishment as a composer , a potential that she was never able to reach due to requirements of family life.  Surely a great loss to music.    

The evening ended with a fine performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Sonata in G major, which again is often overlooked, but which demands technical brilliance of a kind that Charles Matthews was so evidently able to deliver.

Alexander Ardakov, virtuoso Russian pianist and Professor of Piano at Trinity College, played to a full hugely appreciative audience this evening.  His rich and challenging programme included works by Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky ,Beethoven ,Gluck and arrangements by Lizst.

Ardakov commenced with Seven Variations on the Theme 'God save the King' to celebrate Queen Elizabeth's 91st Birthday.  This was followed by a superlative rendering of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition which enchanted the attentive audience.

After the interval we had a superb performance of three delightful Rachmaninov short pieces, Melodie op3 No 3 in E major,  Elegie op3 No 1 in E flat minor, and Polichinelle op 3  no 4  in F sharp major.  This was followed by Ardakov’s interpretation of Rachmaninov’s Ten Preludes, each of which left the audience spellbound by the intensity and passion of his playing.

The evening was very well attended with guests coming from far and wide. It was an unforgettable evening which left us all in another world.   We were indeed lucky to have a musician of Ardakov’s calibre with us for the evening, and hope that we will be able to welcome him back to Shipston again in the future.

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