Monday, 22 November 2010

Duncan Honeybourne at Glenorchy

pianist Duncan Honeybourne
initially calm
Last Wednesday's lunchtime concert at Glenorchy was a solo performance on the Venables piano by Weymouth pianist Duncan Honeybourne.  And what a performance.  A very precise, and clearly very emotional young man, Duncan began by telling us about the composer of his first selected composition.  Jack Moeran was an Irish composer who grew up in Norfolk.  His piece Stalham River, composed in 1921, is inspired by his childhood memories of East Anglia.
Once at the piano Duncan settled himself into a state of deep concentration before embarking on the piece.  After a long pause Duncan started very deliberately on Moeran's gorgeous tone poem.  After some very beautiful scene setting, the sound of rippling water passes from the right hand to the left and back again as the story of the Norfold Fens unfolds.  Incredibly the piano seemed to merge into the scenery as the description developed.  A masterful piece, masterfully played.
Moeran, sadly, died very young, from a brain haemmorhage on 1st December 1950.  (He was found in an Irish river, but it was later established that he died before falling in.)  Next Wednesday will be the sixtieth anniversary of his death. This Tuesday, in memory of that sad loss, we shall listen to some of his music - including 'Stalham River' - on the 'Classical Journey'.
After seeing his consummate skill at the piano it was rather surprising to see Duncan struggle to operate the microphone to tell us about his next selection.  This was a very emotional choice: Robert Schumann's 'Fantasy in C'.  Schumann was born in Zwickau, Saxony in June 1810, so his bicentennial has just passed.  The fantasy was written in 1836, when Robert was 26.  He intended sales of the music to fund a monument to Beethoven, who had died nine years earlier when Robert was 17. At the time, Robert was longing to be married to his beloved Clara - but prevented by Clara's father, Robert's piano tutor, Frederick Wieck.  The first movement of the fantasy includes the theme to Beethoven's song cycle from 1816, 'An die ferne Geliebte' (To the Distant Beloved) - a very appropriate reference in the circumstances.
All three movements have very elaborate German titles, with somewhat simpler English equivalents.
First: 'Durchaus phantastisch und leidenschaftlich vorzutragen' (Absolutely fantastic and passionateley put forward), tailor made for Duncan it would seem.  This movement is more simply called 'Ruins'.
After a pregnant pause the first note was slammed down, only to be augmented by gentle rippling in the left hand.  Complicated discordant runs followed.  A song almost starts but then dies.  The music becomes loud and aggressive traversing the keyboard like heavy boots climbing the stairs, before becoming uncontrolled with sudden changes of tempo. At times, the music becomes suddenly playful, and just as suddenly serious.  Duncan gave an impassioned performance - which was utterly enthralling.  His writhing body movements confirmed his total immersionin the music.  Even the lingering end to the first movement surprised us all by ending in a resounding crash!
Second: 'Maessig. Durchaus energisch' (Moderately.  Quite vigorously) known more simply as 'Trophies'.  This was only relatively moderate!  After another pregnant pause, Duncan launched into a loud modern-sounding movement.
The music seemed to involve endless crazy experiments with Duncan's hands dancing and jumping on the keys and crossing repeatedly.  A massive march theme begins to form, but then suddenly stops.  The whole movement becomes more and more exciting, belying the description of 'moderate'.
Third: 'Langsam getragen. Durchaus leise zu halten' (Taken slowly. To keep quite quiet) or more simply 'Palms'. This was much more leisurely.  Both the music and Duncan's body swayed gently through this dreamlike section.  A trickling melody in the right hand is backed up by a deep bass rumble from the left.  This movement contained just as much contrast as the other two, but on a much smaller scale. The final notes were exultant and full of emotion, ending on a long reverberating last note.
The emotional intensity of this performance was quite extraordinary.  We are very fortunate that such a pianist can come to Devon to give a performance like this. Glenorchy event coordinator, David Lee, as he thanked Duncan on our behalf, suggested that Duncan might come again for the Exmouth Festival next year.  It was even suggested that Fiona Cross (clarinettist with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields) might join him in duet.  She is now living in Dorset and quite willing to bring her talent to Devon.  The suggestion met with universal enthusiasm.

We hope we shall see you again soon, Duncan!

(Fiona did join Duncan at Glenorchy, on Thursday 2 June 2011.
- see Snapshots for May & June)

By a strange coincidence, as mentioned in the Concert Run-Down last week, pianist Frances Waters played in duet with clarinettist Kevin Hurst, on the evening of the same day, in Exeter Cathedral Chapter House.  Sadly I couldn't make it to that concert as well.  But Frances will be back at Glenorchy next week to accompany soprano Val Howels.

Glenorchy Lunchtime Concerts: Piano and Soprano
Wednesday 24 November 12.30pm, Glenorchy United Reformed Church, Exmouth
pianist Frances Waters & soprano Val Howels
No charge for admission

(Dreamy Songs and Poems)

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