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Rivetingly dramatic pianism

Planet Hugill, Robert Hugill

For the Sunday concert at Conway Hall on 27 January 2019, pianist Simon Callaghan (director of music for the Sunday Concerts Series) was joined by Rosalind Ventris (viola) and Karel Bredenhorst (cello) to perform two monolithic transcriptions of works for orchestra and soloist, Berlioz’ Harold en Italie in a version for viola and piano by Franz Liszt, and Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, in a version for cello and piano by the Czech composer Arthur Willner.

The concert opened with the Strauss, and here we were able to appreciate Callaghan’s sympathetic approach to the music, making Richard Strauss on the piano flow as if naturally conceived, and indeed it was intriguing hearing the familiar textures in new guise. And there were plenty of moments, such as the tilting at windmills episode, where Callaghan was able to demonstrate some fine fingerwork.

Bredenhorst made a nicely mellow protagonist, perhaps more dynamic and less Autumnal than some. And, of course, the transcription places the cello part (intended more as primus inter pares rather than a true solo part) in greater spotlight.

Both Bredenhorst and Callaghan brought deft touches of humour to the piece, with a finely wistful conclusion.

Bredenhorst gave us some very stylish cello playing, and was complemented by Callaghan’s superb tour de force in making the huge piano part work.

After the interval we heard Liszt’s 1836 transcription of Berlioz’ Harold en Italie, which had premiered in 1834.

… Ventris and Callaghan played the work with immense sympathy, responding to the more chamber scale and not trying to make it something it wasn’t. So Callaghan’s darkly concentrated account of the opening was complemented by Ventris’ melancholy singing tone, with both made the music highly passionate. The second movement march of the pilgrims was highly atmospheric with some evocative string crossing from Ventris.

… The finale has always been strange as the protagonist disappears from the musical argument for a long stretch, here Ventris moved to the side of the stage and left Callaghan to address the outrageous pianistic demands that Liszt makes in his version of the Orgie de brigands.

Callaghan played it with real bravura, and gave us some rivetingly dramatic pianism, joined again by Ventris for the melancholy ending.

We were treated to an encore, Massenet’s Elegie which enabled all three performers to play together for the first time.

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