Thursday, 1 February 2018

Stephen Beville New Year Piano Recital Westgate Christian Fellowship Monday 22 January 2018

Piano: Stephen Beville

On Monday 22 January this year Stephen Beville returned to the stage with another fabulour piano recital. This time he concentrated on music inspired by childhood memories. The upper room of the Westgate Christian Fellowship was a particularly inviting and functional music venue. Although Stephen is not very familiar with the piano there, he was still totally in his element.

Stephen opened with Edvard Grieg's "Arietta" & "Berceuse", and Wolfgang Mozart's "Ah, vous dirai-je Maman" (Can you tell me Mother [what causes my torment]) - which is more familiar as the theme to "Twinkle, twinkle, little star". Mozart, of course, takes this simple piece in numerous exciting new directions as the the variations become ever more complex and inspired. Stephen performed each variation spectacularly.

 Then, in a change to the order of the advertised programme, he played the whole of Robert Schumann's "Kinderszenen" (Scenes from Childhood) in the first half, rather than the second. The theme of the suite is a reference to Schumann's own childhood. (The suite was completed two years before Robert and Clara were married.) Stephen's playful interpretation reflected Schumann's desire to delight and entertain his intended wife Clara - who had been forbidden to marry Robert by her father (Frederick Wieck). The young Robert Schumann, and his siblings, could be imagined rushing from toy to toy, playing games and enjoying stories. Lighthearted, but also very impressive.

After a leisurely break, with refreshments laid on by the Westgate Fellowship members in their cafeteria, Stephen returned to the piano for a two-movement sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven. The sonata pre-dates the Schumann suite by a quarter of a century. The manuscript bears Beethoven's very specific instructions in German:

First Movement:
"Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck"
(With liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout)
Second Movement:
"Nicht zu geschwind und sehr singbar vorgetragen"
(Not too swiftly and conveyed in a singing manner)

Stephen followed the instructions to the letter, and reproduced Beethoven's early romantic masterpiece with a wealth of expression and emotion. Beethoven endlessly reasserted his brilliance as a composer, topping each passage with another of equal ingenuity. And Stephen was quite equal to the task of keeping pace with Beethoven's flights of genius.

Then came a unique suite of pieces, not often heard in concert. The composer, Sofia Gubaidulina, is now 86 and lives in Hamburg where she still works actively in music. She continues to add to her musical accolades, and last year the Boston New England Conservatory added to her already impressive list of honorary degrees.

Sofia was born in Tartarstan and was subject to residual Stalinist restrictions during her musical education and early career. Despite her unconventional ideas she was aided in her success by Dmitri Shostakovich. Graduating just as the Krushchev era began, Sofia was able to make a career composing for movies, and her scores can be heard on early documentaries in 'Kinopanorama' - the Soviet version of 'Cinerama'. Also, as the nineteen-sixties drew to a close, she composed her own suite of childhood memories for the piano - "Musical Toys".

Unlike Schumann, Gubaidulina brings a stark minimalism to her images. Often the melody is in a single line broken to great effect by pregnant pauses. Interspersed, are delightful bagatelles. The overall effect is very unconventional and engaging - sufficiently so, one imagines, to satisfy the aesthetic requirements of First Secretary Nikita Kruschchev.

Stephen played this demanding and virtuosic pieces with absolute precision and an ebullient sense of fun and mischief, just as Gubaidulina intended. Following Schumann's lead, Gubaidulina conjures up many different and contrasting memories from childhood, with strong overtones of her native Russia. Stephen was able to bring every one of her musical vignettes to life with great imagination, as well as technical skill.

The concert ended gently with two more classical compositions, this time by Frédéric Chopin. His "Berceuse" (Opus 54) was an obvious choice, followed by an equally delightful "Impromptu" in F sharp (Opus36). A spectacular finish to a spectacular concert.

Many thanks to Stephen Beville for all his work and for sharing his wonderful talent with Exeter audiences. Also thanks to Bob Jones and Mike Coles of the Westgate Christian Fellowship for organising such a splendid evening. We can look forward to more of Stephen's live performance in the near future, and recordings are also available (details below). Watch this space!

Piano: Stephen Beville


After studying at the Royal Academy and Royal Northern College, Stephen also received a scholarship to study at Karlsruhe where he became a polished composer and performer - their best student. He began giving recitals while still in Germany and his debut recording album "In Karlsruhe" is now available on the 'Divine Art' label. Beethoven, Schumann and Chopin are included, of course. There is also yet another playful suite of miniatures, this time by Gubaidulina's French contemporary, Pierre Boulez.

Copies are available from Stephen's Website. We shall also enjoy extracts on tomorrow's "Classical Journey Redux" which will be broadcast between 9am and 12 noon from Studio 4, Dartington Space, Dartington Hall Estate on Soundart Radio (102.5 FM in the Totnes area, and streaming live on

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