Lovers of piano music are in for a treat over the next few weeks as a bevy of distinguished pianists visit our region.
Steven Osborne performs Mozart’s most sombre piano concerto, no.24 in C minor, with the CBSO conducted by Edward Gardner at Symphony Hall on February 19 (2.15pm) and on February 20 (7.30pm, details on 0121 780 3333).
Osborne returns to the Midlands on March 13, performing for Malvern Concert Club in the town’s Forum Theatre. His programme includes Ravel’s Miroirs, Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata, and works by Prokofiev, his recording of which won a Gramophone award in 2013.
Before then, though, Malvern hosts a recital from Stephen Hough, blogger, Daily Telegraph columnist, and composer, as well as the small matter of being a world-renowned pianist who has won awards for his recordings with the CBSO on the Hyperion label.
His programme in the Forum Theatre will bring some rarities: Albumblatt by Richard Wagner (this composer of great, monumental operas did also produce some instrumental trifles, including two early symphonies), Erinnerungen (Remembrances) by Bruckner and Traumerei by Richard Strauss. More familiar works include Brahms’ late Seven Fantasias and the miraculous Four Ballades by Chopin, and I am particularly looking forward to hearing Hough performing Schoenberg’s Six Little Pieces. And look out for his visit to the Barber Institute at University of Birmingham in May, with a similar programme, but this time including his own Piano Sonata no.2.
This recital on February 20 forms part of the well-established Yamaha International Piano Series, and is followed on March 21 by one from Benjamin Grosvenor which features works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Schumann, Medtner, Ravel and concludes with Liszt’s virtuosic transcription of the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust.
Between those two events Malvern hosts yet another of this country’s great pianists when Paul Lewis is the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no.25, centrepiece of a programme from the Manchester Camerata which concludes with Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony (March 1, all Malvern details on 01684 892277).
Here in Birmingham, the Town Hall is the venue for an all-Chopin recital on February 22 very close to the composer’s 204th birthday.
The pianist is the Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, who gave the CBSO audience such a spellbinding account of Chopin’s Piano Concerto no.2 at the start of the current concert-season. Her programme on this occasion contains too many goodies to mention, and concludes with all 24 Preludes, a fantastic compendium of pianistic technique and fantasy.
On March 2 Symphony Hall will experience a recreation of part of an amazing concert which Beethoven organised in Vienna in 1808. It was just before Christmas, the hall was freezing, and the programme included more than four hours of music: premieres of the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the first public performance of the Fourth Piano Concerto, parts of the Mass in C, the scena and aria Ah! Perfido, Beethoven himself, having already played the concerto, now improvising at the piano, and concluding with the hastily-written Choral Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra.
It was a difficult evening, with tensions between Beethoven and the performers resulting in a breakdown in the middle of the Fantasy necessitating a restart, and always the bitter cold in the Theater an der Wien.
The Symphony Hall experience will be somewhat different, warm, cosy, with only half the programme, and in the committed hands of the Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra under the baton of the exciting conductor Andres Orozco-Estrada.
And the piano soloist is John Lill, currently celebrating his 70th birthday, and who has recorded all five Beethoven piano concertos with the CBSO conducted by Walter Weller (Chandos) and who played them all at Symphony Hall in 2004.
Lill won the Moscow International Piano Competition in 1970, and another prizewinner in that world-renowned contest is Peter Donohoe, who appears with the CBSO at Symphony Hall on March 12 and 13 in Dohnanyi’s delicious Variations on a Nursery Song (spot the connection with Mozart; Dohnanyi should be flattered).
Another prizewinner appearing soon, this time at Birmingham Town Hall, is Ashley Fripp, victor in Birmingham’s 2012 Brant International Piano Competition. His
fascinating programme on March 11 begins with a late Haydn sonata, continues through Thomas Ades’ concert paraphrase on his own raunchy opera Powder her Face, and concludes with the Italian book of Liszt’s Annees de Pelerinage.
Finally there’s Lang Lang, who visits Symphony Hall on April 4 and turns his attention to two of the most delicate composers of piano music in history, Mozart and Chopin, world-class pianists in themselves. How Lang Lang manages his genuflections will be interesting to experience.
* All Symphony Hall and Town Hall details on 0121 780 3333.