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.

It was local talent who last week entertained the members of the Shipston Music Society. Tim and Helen Porter and their daughter Hannah, are just three members of a musical family (the others were performing elsewhere!) Tim is a self-taught harmonica player, Helen is well known in the area as a piano teacher and Hannah plays the piano, flute and violin.

They produced a varied programme with many pieces easily recognised by the audience interspersed with others, new to many, some arranged by the family during “jamming sessions”.For instance, the lively ”The Entertainer” by Scot Joplin was followed by the slower, slightly wistful opening of “Desperado” by Frey and Henley. The interaction between harmonica and, firstly flute then violin, swapping the melody and countermelody with perfect balance was well executed. “My Baby just cares for me” sung and self- accompanied by Hannah was a delight; she has an intuitive sense of style within the jazz idiom. Other highlights were “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar where the harmonica really became the principal performer. The piece had a rather sad “folk tune” type theme in a minor key and was performed with expertise and feeling by Tim. In contrast, “What a wonderful world” also highlighting the harmonica, was full of sunshine and joy. “Summertime” (George Gershwin) began with an introduction consisting of snatches of the main theme being passed around the players, before the flute finally took the melody into the higher range for a complete rendition which, as usual, was achieved effortlessly by Hannah. Two contrasting piano rags by Scott Joplin, “Maple Leaf Rag” and “Solace” were played with great attention to detail by Helen, and the evening ended with “The Man I Love” by Gershwin where Hannah’s flawless top notes again filled the high ceiling of the Shipston Methodist Church.

With a programme featuring pieces by composers ranging from Telemann,  Debussy and Rachmaninov to John Barry, Ronnie Hazelhurst and Paul McCartney, this was an evening of contrasting styles executed with skill and obvious enjoyment and was suitably rewarded with enthusiastic applause.

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 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 September meeting was an evening of music performed by CHIMERA – a quartet of flute (Clare Preston), bass (Anese Cullington), drums (Robin Payne) and piano (Helen Porter).

The programme consisted of classical pieces by Debussy (d.1918) and Faure (d.1924) and works for flute and jazz trio by Claude Bolling and Jacques Loussier (both present day composers).There were several movements from Bolling’s Suites Nos. 1 and 2 providing contrast in style and instrumentation with two solos by Debussy. The first “Dr. Gradus” for piano from his Children’s Corner Suite played with real style and very nimble finger work by Helen. Then later we heard “Syrinx” for unaccompanied flute. Clare’s beautiful tone and fantastic breath control were evident throughout.

“Play Bach – Prelude No. 1” provided us with a clear contrast between an opening section in true Baroque Bach style followed by a jazz interpretation – quite fascinating.

The evening ended with three more movements from Bolling. ”Pastorale”, gentle and lyrical, then “Affectueuse” in which Clare played her alto flute. Members were delighted by the deeper tone quality of this instrument and afterwards she was very happy to chat to them and answer their questions. The third piece, “Veloce” as the name suggests was a fast and very rhythmic piece which had everyone tapping their feet. This was a fitting finale for the quartet: their ensemble playing was excellent throughout and their genuine pleasure in performing together delighted the audience. We hope that they will perform for us again in the future.

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