Thursday, 22 August 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: Chetham's Piano Festival: Recital by Sarah Beth Briggs - The Stoller Hall, Manchester.


Sarah Beth Briggs gave a lecture recital to commemorate the centenary of the birth of British pianist and musicologist, Denis Matthews. Matthews was a piano teacher of Briggs, who was able to bring a personal insight to Matthews both as a person and as a renowned pianist.

The event was a mixture of anecdotes and performances with some demonstrations on the keyboard. Briggs opened with the first four of Beethoven’s Bagatelles. This was a powerful, determined performance which demonstrated above all Briggs talent and ability. If this is the pupil, I thought, how must the teacher have performed?! There was a fantastic evenness of tone with clearly balanced counterpoint and commanding dynamic, and this would be the case for the entire performance.

The programme of music was made up of pieces that Briggs had been taught by Matthews and gave an insight to his approach to learning and interpreting pieces. Briggs told us that Matthews frequently played orchestral music in his lesson in order to learn more about the tone of the piano. He would make up rhymes in order to learn difficult rhythms or polyrhythms. Briggs spoke with warmth and detail about her former tutor, who died in 1988, and was able to give a very strong idea of what type of person he was. Her performance of Mozart’s sonata in F, K332, was both astounding and beautiful. She told us that Matthews told her that every Mozart piece was operatic and indeed this performance of this sonata brought out great drama and narrative with clear moments of tension and others of lyrical beauty. It was as if I had heard it for the first time.

Briggs included a piece written by Matthews; 'Rhapsody'. This was written when Matthews was a teenager and although we were told to take in to consideration the lack of training at this point in his life, this piece was intriguing in that while it displayed techniques and devices common to the classical and romantic styles, with some 20th century influences, it also had a uniqueness to it. Perhaps it was the voice of a young musician uncorrupted, so to speak, by learning! This was a fitting piece to include in this deeply personal lecture about Matthews.

The final performance of the concert was Brahms’ Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. These were written in the final years of Brahms’ life and we know that Brahms was very concerned with getting older and dying, these themes and a sadness surrounding them, were very obvious in his later works. Briggs played these solemnly and longingly, touching the entire audience. While extremely melancholic, these pieces contain moments of lightness and hope, which Briggs explored eloquently.

While we all were privileged to learn more about Matthews from someone who knew him, the real privilege was to hear Briggs play. This was an outstanding concert in a series of outstanding concerts.

Reviewer - Aaron Loughrey
on - 16/8/19

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