The 2023/2024 season of the Shipston Music Society began on September 15th with a celebration of younger performers who all live, or attend school in the area. The evening began with Julian Halota. He chose three pieces: “Rondo a la Turca” by Mozart, “Opening Night Jazz” by Martha Meir” and “Rumba Toccata” by Paul Harvey. Julian is a confident pianist who can happily switch from the classical era of Mozart to the jazz idioms of the late 19th and early 20th century. His playing showed a developing maturity and understanding of the necessary elements required for performance.

Molly Sharma was next on the piano stool with two pieces. “Ivan is very busy” from “The Adventures of Ivan” by Khachaturian, a Russian/Armenian composer (1903 – 1978) and “Prayer of the Matador” by N. Dello Joio, another American composer. The first, as the name suggests is a piece of perpetual motion which Molly was able to execute with ease, but then in contrast we heard a haunting melody (the matador’s thoughts?)  captured by Molly’s lovely legato playing.

Next, a change of instrument as Aaron Notley Jones came forward with his classical guitar. For his first piece he chose “Old Mountain Thyme” (a traditional Scottish folksong) which highlighted the use of the Scottish “snap”.  In contrast he chose “Mazurka Choro” by Villa Lobos. This was exactly what one would expect of a piece based on South American folk music. It was apparent that Aaron enjoyed playing it and the audience liked it too.

Philip Mitroi was due to play several duets with his sister but unfortunately she was unable to be with us. However Philip offered to play “Juin” from “The Seasons” by Tchaikovsky. This lovely piece is in the style of a barcarole with a serene melody played over gentle chords providing the harmony. This was a performance that demonstrated his ability to make the melody “sing”.

Freddie Charles was also prevented from performing for us this evening so Julian had offered to play two extra pieces. Unfortunately I mislaid the programme on which I had noted the titles. My apologies. However the enthusiastic applause also prompted the offer of another piece each from Aaron and Molly so our thanks to them.

Our final performer was Cameron Spruce who began with “La Cathedrale Engloutie” by Claude Debussy. This piece conjures up a submerged cathedral as in the old Breton legend of the town of Ys, once engulfed but now revealing, at low tide, the foundations… Cameron had no difficulty in creating the dark and forbidding atmosphere of the scene with the tolling of the cathedral bell. It was very atmospheric. In complete contrast “The Golliwog’s Cakewalk” transported the audience to a comic scene of golliwogs having fun. After the applause Cameron immediately put on his jazz hat with a rollicking performance of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer”. The perfect finale for a super concert by our young, local talent. My congratulations to Julian, Molly, Aaron, Philip and Cameron for a most enjoyable evening. THANK YOU.

For the final concert of the 2022/2023 season the Shipston Music Society had great pleasure in inviting the internationally renowned pianist Alexander Ardakov to make a return visit, this time with a change from our usual venue of the Methodist Church to St. Edmund’s Church as part of the “Shipston Proms”. To our delight he accepted the invitation.

For this recital Ardakov chose two composers noted for their piano compositions, Frederick Chopin (1810 – 1849) and Sergei Rachmaninov (1873 – 1943).

The programme began with Chopin’s music. A selection of Nocturnes, Mazurkas and Waltzes displayed Chopin’s ability to produce energetic, lively sections which then “melt” into soft, gentle melodic phrases. Then came the Ballade No. 1 in G minor (op. 23). This is a real “show piece” which requires a complete command of the keyboard and very quick, delicate  fingerwork.  We were not disappointed. Finally the Scherzo No. 2 in Bflat minor (op. 31), a very powerful work so not for the faint-hearted!  We were treated to a very strong performance, giving us plenty to discuss during the interval.

Rachmaninov studied at the Moscow Conservatoire (1885 – 92) and graduated with distinction in both piano and composition. He wrote extensively for the piano although he is perhaps more widely remembered for his orchestral works especially the three symphonies and four piano concertos. As he was composing nearly forty years after Chopin’s death it is interesting to see his ability to create a lyrical melody from small motifs and the influence of the Russian Romanticism inherited from Tchaikovsky and his teachers. Ardakov chose to begin this part of the recital with Melodie (op. 3 no. 3) and Elegie (op.3 no.1) which were followed by “Polchinelle” (op.3 no.4). This was, from the outset a very playful, exuberant piece until in the middle section a beautiful melody gradually emerged. This too then receded as a lively section brought the work to its conclusion. Ten Preludes completed the programme of which no. 5 in G minor (alla marcia) was an excellent example of Ardakov’s technical skill.

This programme and it’s performance by Alexander Ardakov  was a real “Tour de Force” and all members of the audience, musicians and non-musicians, responded with rapturous applause. An encore of three short pieces by Glinka, Scriabin and Tchaikovsky was received with more well-deserved applause before we allowed our performer “to bow out”!

What a wonderful conclusion to our 2022/2023 season.

“Sax a Trois” was the group of musicians who entertained us at our April meeting and what a talented group they were. Anna Young, Paynor Tsate and Samantha Matthews from the Birmingham Conservatoire have all won prizes for their solo performances and as members of trios and quartets. The accompanist was Charles Matthews, a tutor in piano and organ at the Conservatoire. He is in great demand for his legendary accompanying skills not just at the Conservatoire but also in the wider circle of professional music making.

The programme consisted of a trio to both begin and end the entertainment with each student playing a solo piece in each half of the programme.

“Dance for three Saxophones” (originally for three violins) arranged by Charles Matthews set the scene with a very robust and rhythmic performance with excellent attention to detail. Anna then played “Fuzzy Bird Sonata” by Tokashi Yoshimatsu in which after several attempts Fuzzy Bird finally manages to take flight. After the interval Anna played Vocalise by Messiaen which demonstrated her beautiful legato tone quality. Paynor chose “Majorca” by Albeniz which, as expected, displayed a real Spanish atmosphere particularly as Paynor was very keen to highlight the rhythmic content. For his second piece he chose “Escapades” (from the film “Catch me if you can”) by John Williams. After  the opening section the mood became mysterious with a rather free rhythmic content before ending with “Joy Ride” which brought the piece to a very lively conclusion. Samantha played “Concerto” in three short movements by Lee Actor and in the second half she played the soprano saxophone and played “Fujiko” by Andy Scott. This demonstrated her control of the instrument and her beautiful smooth legato playing as the piece ended very softly and mysteriously. The final piece is best known when played by three violins but Pachelbel’s “Canon” nevertheless was an interesting choice and in the hands of such talented performers one could always hear the melody as it is passed from one player to the next.

Charles, as usual, was superb in the way he coped with some unbelievably difficult accompaniments  and, after an evening of excellent music-making,  the performers were rewarded with long, enthusiastic and well-deserved applause.

The March meeting of the Music Society was held, not in the usual venue of the Methodist Church, but in the Music Room at Famington Farm, Willington thanks to the very kind invitation of David Hodges. This is a perfect venue for Chamber music and the Arcus Piano Trio certainly enjoyed playing there.

The programme consisted of two Piano trios, the first by Schubert (1797 – 1828) and the second by Brahms (1833 – 1897). Schubert completed the Trio No. 1 in B-flat major in 1828 just before he died. Written in the classical style of that era, it nevertheless brings to the fore his wonderful ability to compose beautiful melodies particularly in the first two movements. In the third movement (Scherzo) the instruments imitate each other before leading us into the final movement which ended with an exciting section, played as marked, at presto speed!

After the interval, in which members of the audience enjoyed a glass of wine, it was the Piano Trio No. 1 in B major by Brahms. Although theoretically it is still in the classical age it certainly shows leanings towards the romantic era that was to follow with a stronger sense of emotion and less adherence to the classical forms. The opening of this Trio is an example; the cello and piano introduce a bold melody which builds up to the entry of the violin. Then follows a lively section in which various themes are developed. In the Scherzo the delicate finger work from all players was beautifully executed.

It was clear from the start that these three performers really enjoy playing together; the synchronisation was superb, seemingly by instinct on occasions and their musicianship is of the highest level. Formed in 2015 they have already received many accolades in this country but each one of them also pursues a successful career as a soloist. They are based in the Midlands and hopefully, we may be able to persuade them to play for us again in the future.

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.

Copyright © 2024 Shipston Music Society
Affiliated to Making Music
Registered Charity No: 1146459 (England)