Charles Matthews - piano recital

February 19, 2022

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.

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