I had the pleasure of attending a special BBC Radio 3 gala concert on Monday night. It was held at Hoddinott Hall which forms part of the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, and was in aid of Children in Need. The concert also marked the climax of the Radio 3 Piano Season and in order to celebrate this occasion, we were treated to a grand total of 12 pianists. They weren’t all on stage at once, but there was an enjoyable plethora of works for one, two and three pianos all accompanied by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales conducted by Grant Llewellyn.
The pianists were a mix of professionals and amateurs which surprisingly worked very well and, as was to be expected from this type of event, there was plenty of comedy and jovial merriment. The concert was beautifully introduced and presented by Petroc Trelawny.
J.S.Bach’s Concerto for Three Pianos in D minor BWV 1063 was the ceremonious opener. Soloists were Noriko Ogawa, Alexandra Dariescu and Thomas Yu. Yu, a dentist from Canada, plays the piano as a hobby (although he was joint winner of the Yamaha Amateur Piano Competition) so it was quite a feat performing a concerto such as this alongside two illustrious pianists. He played with total assurance. Alexandra and Noriko both produced rich warm timbres inflecting this work with plenty of colour and panache.
Nicholas McCarthy, probably the most well-known left-handed pianist in the world, performed solo works by Scriabin and Bach/Liszt. Nicholas could have easily convinced his audience that he was playing with two hands such was the complexity and wide ranging tonal contrasts of his chosen works. A performance by Pudsey Bear (the Children in Need mascot) followed and he bravely attempted the theme of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op 23. Joking aside, I was quite impressed that anyone managed to play the huge opening chords accurately dressed up as a teddy – bravo!
The fast half concluded with a performance of British composer Graham Fitkin’s Circuit; a work for two pianos and orchestra which tested all the performers to the limit. This complex piece was played by pianists Kathryn Stott and Noriko Ogawa who relentlessly powered their way through a never ending myriad of stampeding wide spread chords, changing meters and dissonant rapid passagework. The result was electrifying and the composer, who was present, looked elated.
After the interval, we were presented with 5 pianists at 3 pianos. This part of the concert was dedicated to the Radio 3 Piano Learners; celebrities who gamely took piano lessons from EPTA teachers (European Piano Teachers Association) for just 6 weeks before giving their first live performance. The celebrities were Radio 1’s Dev; BBC Breakfast’s weather presenter, Carol Kirkwood; the Asian network’s Tommy Sandhu and Olympic Pentathelete Samantha Murray – all proficiently assisted by Blue Peter’s Barney Harwood (who had quite clearly played before!). They performed an arrangement of Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme Op 25.
The concert closed with an arresting account of Rachmaninov’s Concerto No.2 in C minor Op 18 given by Ukrainian pianist Valentina Lisitsa. In my opinion, this was the highlight of the evening and proved that Rachmaninov’s most popular piece never loses its appeal. Lisitsa produced an exquisite expressive sound and demonstrated breathtaking technical control. Rhythmically incisive, she played with such speed and gusto that occasionally the orchestra could not keep up! Valentina’s encore, Liszt’s La Campanella, brought the concert to a close. BBC Radio 3 excelled in combining such diverse piano abilities and repertoire; hopefully Pudsey succeeded in raising some cash too.
Photos are courtesy of my Blackberry so they are not as clear as they could be!
For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.
You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.