When one is presented with massive hype for a particular soloist, I for one, am suspicious. Over-the- top complimentary thick glossy programmes were at hand showing gorgeous photos of the American boy wonder, pianist Thomas Nickell. His history and musical achievements (from birth?) were guaranteed to set my warning bells a-ringing.
Yes, the seventeen year old certainly has formidable pianistic technique, lots of firm finger work, much use of the sustaining pedal, but somewhat lacking in sensitivity for my hero J.S.Bach, however some exquisite piano accompaniments saved the day. Fortunately the ‘strings only’ orchestra for this fascinating programme did a fine job, encouraged throughout any idiosyncrasies by super-efficient conductor David Curtiss.
Britten’s Frank Bridge Variations teased the mind in a feast of imagination, including splendid unison violins with highlights of cello, viola and leader solos. A delicious lop-sided curious ‘waltz’, a jolly pizzicato tune – everything from gutsy fortissimos to breath-taking whispers. Beautifully performed.
David Matthews’ Piano Concerto 111 was the evening’s highlight. ‘Mozartian in conception’ this is music full of imagination - listen to the leader tossing solo fragments to principal cello, totally mind-teasing. Our young soloist had learnt much of the concerto from memory, so performed with vigour – but please take care not to blur all with too much enthusiastic pedalling especially when offsetting emphatic pizzicatos. Not a minuet, but a smiling tango of infectious rhythms lead to true blues with a faux Scottish drone turning to sweeping romanticism in the finale.
An accolade greeted the composer – smiles all round.