Saturday, 7 May 2011

Joyce Clarke gives one final recital at Glenorchy Wednesday 4 May

Pianist Joyce Clarke
In February, Glenorchy regulars enjoyed a varied and exciting  recital of Handel, Mozart, Smetana and Kreisler by the Beacon Piano Trio.
Since then the trio's pianist, Joyce Clarke, has been working on a concert she will be performing on Wednesday 18th May in the Officers' Mess of the Arsenale di Venezia (the former military and naval arsenal in Venice, now a naval base and technology centre - and a venue for excellent music it seems.) Joyce is returning following her very successful concert last year at the Metropole Hotel on the Bacino di San Marco waterfront. This year the May sunshine and the beautiful views of the Darsena Grande will be the perfect setting for a Joyce's selection of music from Europe in the romantic style.
With the prospect of Venetian audience in mind Joyce started the recital with her one classical piece, a Sonata by Baldassare Galuppi.. Galuppi's music has enjoyed something of a revival in the music world recently. He was born in Burano, one of the islands at the north eastern end of the Laguna. He lived in Venice about thirty years later than Vivaldi, taking up his first major post, at the Ospedale dei Mendicanti the year before Vivaldi died.  Galuppi wrote many operas and sacred works, and in later life wrote many keyboard works including ninety sonatas.
Joyce had chosen a two movement sonata which she played without any reference to sheet music. Her touch was light and sure and beguilingly lyrical. Through several changes of mood, including an effect like church bells descending a scale, Joyce's playing remained remarkably smooth. Also noticeable was the absolute silence from the audience who were utterly absorbed in the music. After opening the second movement in the right hand only, Joyce brought in the left with perfect smoothness. Each tinkling trill in the treble added to the fun of the allegro which finished seriously, with determined finality, while still retaining that sense of fun.
Clara Schumann,
husband Robert,
and devoted friend
Johannes Brahms
The remainder of Joyce's recital was dedicated to French and German music of the romantic period (with one very special exception, which I shall come to later).. First she played an intermezzo from Johannes Brahms' 'Six Pieces for Piano'. Brahms wrote the pieces in 1893 when he was sixty years old, as a token of his affection for Clara Schumann who was, by then, seventy four years old herself. Brahms had secretly loved Clara from their first meeting when he was only twenty and Clara was married to Robert Schumann. Robert, who had been ill for some time, died only three years later, which was devastating for Clara and Johannes. Johannes moved into Clara's house, but whether Clara returned his affection is not clear as they both destroyed all letters they ever received from each other. The 'Six Pieces' are especially poignant as both Johannes and Clara died only three years after they were written.
Once again Joyce's fluid playing built the rich melodies slowly and gently. The mixture of impassioned pleading and expressions of joy and happiness were not lost on the audience, who were clearly deeply touched by them, as was Joyce herself. For all it's expression of emotion the music is never self-indulgent. It changed and developed continually, never dwelling too long on one idea. Finally Joyce held the last notes as the wonderful Venables grand piano played out its own tune in resonant beats and reverberations.
Brahms' Intermezzo was followed by the music of one of the most demanding, and rewarding, of the romantic composers - Frédéric Chopin. A Polish composer in Paris, Chopin belonged to an earlier era than Brahms. Born two decades before Brahms, he died when Brahms was only sixteen years old. Chopin invented the style of the 'impromptu' and published his first when Brahms was only four. As Joyce played the impromptu a repeated flurry of notes excited our ears, the so-called 'perpetuum mobile' repeated over and over with more complex elaboration each time. The links were simple and deft. Neither Chopin nor Joyce had any need to show off. The whole piece was perfectly balanced, especially the neat conclusion.
Moonlight on Lake Lucerne JMW Turner 1841
Joyce then moved immediately into Chopin's 'Fantaisie-Impromptu' which he had written three years before. Chopin had not intended to publish it, but the Polish pianist Julian Fontana, to whom it was dedicated, had it published against Chopin's wishes. Joyce began with rising scales in the right hand which quickly increased in florid complexity. The tune was intriguingly familiar. Not only is this a well-known and well-used piece, it also takes inspiration from Beethoven's Sonata 'Quasi una Fantasia' which was written at the turn of that century. Only two years before Chopin composed his 'Fantaisie-Impromptu' a music critic had compared Beethoven's sonata to the reflections of moonlight on the rippling waters of Lake Lucerne, so that since then it has been known as the 'Moonlight Sonata'. Chopin's Fantaisie combines the complexity of the second movement of Beethoven's sonata with the familiarity and lightness of the first. Joyce's hands moved skilfully in an elaborate tour of the keyboard, switching with ease and grace from light poetic sections to impassioned cadenzas, and back again. Beautiful treble staccato contrasted with bass rumble in an amazingly demanding combination. Difficult to play well, but Joyce overcame all difficulties with style.
Harold Noble
Now came that very special moment in the recital, a piece not from Italy, Germany or France, but from England. Joyce has been supported in her love of the piano for most of her life by her father, the famous composer Harold Noble. When Joyce was beginning to show promise as a pianist when she was a teenager Harold dedicated a composition to her. It was called 'Midsummer Days' and we shall listen to Joyce play that on the 'Classical Journey' on Tuesday. Years later, when Joyce was getting married, Harold composed a piece specially for her wedding. (There was a pop song of the same name released in the same year, but that is just a coincidence. That song, pleasant as it is, is a completely different tune and bears no relation at all to Harold's composition - even the choice of name is almost certainly a coincidence.)  Harold's 'Chanson D'Amour is a gentle and loving melody expressing his paternal love through music. Soft and sensitive, the music reflects great happiness and serenity. Harold originally wrote the piece to be played on the church organ at Joyce and Peter's wedding and, unknown to the bridegroom, Harold and Joyce arrived at the church ten minutes early so that they could hear it being played before the service. Knowing what beautiful and emotional memories the music held for Joyce made hearing her play almost overwhelmingly moving. As with all the pieces in the recital, Joyce played completely from memory, her eyes closed in the rapture of the moment. Despite the emotional intensity the playing was controlled and smooth throughout. Special thanks at this point to Joyce for sharing such a personal and precious piece of music with us all.
The Grand Canal, Venice,
with gondolas and figures in the foreground
JMW Turner 1819
To spread the net wide again, Joyce finished with two works by another German composer, but one who had close ties with this country - Felix Mendelssohn. Felix was a contemporary of the young Chopin. He wrote many 'Lieder ohne Worte' ('Songs without Words'), forty eight in all, in eight books of six which he published every three or four years. (The last three books were quickly compiled from earlier works in 1845, two years before he died.) The first and second books finish respectively with the two, now famous, 'Venezianische Gondel Lieder' ('Venetian Boat Songs'). The second, from book two, which was published in 1833, the year Brahms was born, evokes the relatively soft swell of the side canals of Venice. The resonant rocking was an intriguing new sound, through which the melody breaks, slowly becoming impassioned - but only a little. Prolonged trills like ripples link the sections adding to the aquatic theme.
Joyce followed it with another beautiful piece published in the same year, but of a slightly older vintage, The 'Andante and Rondo Capriccioso'. The andante has a similar flowing sound to the second boat song, reaching into the treble, slow and soft and leading into the very fast rondo. Despite being lively and bouncy, the rondo was even more delicately played than anything before. After what appears to be a 'big finish' the dance restarts softly, building up again to its former tempo. Joyce repeated the trick sure-footedly again, giving us the unexpected pleasure of more music when it seemed that the piece was all over. This was a great choice for a last piece effectively giving us two encores. The real finish to the rondo, when it came, was a burst of amazingly fast chords.
Newly married in 1902
Sergei and Natalia Rachmaninov
Having been teased by with the fake endings and reprises of the Mendelssohn, the audience were very much in the mood for a real encore, regardless of whether it would take us over the allotted time. And Joyce did have something very special to add - her own arrangement of Sergei Rachmaninov's song, 'How fair this spot', which she had prepared for solo piano.  The young Sergei composed and dedicated the song to his wife Natalia on their honeymoon in 1902. Returning to the blissful theme of married love, Rachmaninov's short bagatelle, in Joyce's hands, was exquisitely sweet with a softly flowing melody. Short as well as sweet, it finished with delightful softness. A very clever arrangement, beautifully played.
Glenorchy organist, and lunchtime concert organiser, David Lee was quick to take the stage and express the gratitude and pleasure we were all feeling. The expression he used, "Poetry in music", summed things up perfectly. Many thanks from us all, Joyce, for a wonderful recital, lovingly and expertly played. Very best wishes with the full performance at the Arsenale next week
The sad news, of course, was that Joyce's recital was the very last of the lunchtime concerts in this series. We have to wait until October to hear more wonderful music from the great wealth of wonderful performers who so galdly - and generously - provide such outstanding entertainment. You can scroll back through these pages to see all the marvelous concerts we have enjoyed. Many pianists and organists using the hiqh quality instruments at Glenorcy to their full potential, but also flautists clarinettists,oboists, cor anglais players, recorder players, guitarists, singers, even a piano and string trio - that was Joyce again in the Beacon Trio with Anna Cockroft and Ruth Lass. Anna was playing again in a very special orchestral concert only four days after this concert. (Scroll up to see the details of that.)
So, until next time, farewell and thank you to all the musicians who have made the series possible, and especial thanks to organiser David lee. You have brought us all so much pleasure!

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