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Blow & Purcell; Schumann and Prokofiev

Gail Pearson Cupid
Lucy Crowe Venus
Andrew Foster-Williams Adonis

Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn conductor

Purcell The Indian Queen Incidental music
Blow Venus and Adonis

Wigmore Hall, Wednesday 16 January 2008

In the recent Trinity College of Music's Early Music Festival one of the high spots was Philip Thorby's Early Music Ensemble giving the first whole concert devoted to John Blow I'd ever attended; he made strong claims for the opera Venus & Adonis as against Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, so much better known.

At Wigmore Hall the two composers were juxtaposed, and the Early Opera Company is a stylish group (with a recent CD of Handel's Semele gaining accolades just now).

A full Wigmore Hall confirmed the current vogue for Baroque music and a sequence of items from the music for The Indian Queen made for a pleasant, shortish first half. The Blow opera plumbed greater depths, but it was a pity that the glossy programme lacked texts - one's attention was unduly diverted from the music by trying to make sense of what was being sung, especially by the two sopranos; you catch a few words on the way, and have to try to guess what the complete sentences might be...

Lucy Crowe made a big effect in the strikingly original lament of Venus but, although Thorby's student singers were not in that class, his performance in the Old Royal Naval College Chapel had a frisson absent from the Wigmore Hall. Both Purcell's and Blow's operas are short enough for them to be presented together as a not overlong-concert, and that (with at least a little semi-staging) is a project worth considering?

Schumann Fantasy op.17; Prokofiev Sonata No.6 op.82
St John's Smith Square, Thursday 17 January 2008

That pleasant enough concert was completely eclipsed the following lunchtime by a seemingly modest recital at St John's Smith Square the next day, which will not have attracted general critical coverage. There was a good audience to take a musical lunch break and hear the young pianist, MIKHAIL SHILYAEV in an hour of Schumann and Prokofiev.

His accounts of the great Fantasy op.17 and Prokofiev's mercurial Sonata No.6 op.82 were warmly received, but I wonder how many realised that they were in the presence of a great and mature pianist, now pushing thirty, whose insightful assimilation of these two master works yields nothing to the famous pianists of today, household names whose careers are bolstered by hype.

It has been my good fortune to follow Shilyaev's occasional London appearances, including a fine Emperor Concerto, since he deservedly gained the prestigious Ricci Foundation Award two years ago. Moscow-trained (and particularly indebted to the influence of Eliso Virsaladze there) with subsequent study in Munich and Manchester, he has a large repertoire of programmes covering all periods, any one of which, he tells me, can be 'refreshed' and given by memory within a week !

Mikhail Shilyaev is no barnstormer; climaxes are as powerful as anyone's, but applied judiciously and with impeccable pedalling to keep the textures clear and resonant. He scarcely looks at his hands and the leaps and complexities in the Prokofiev held no terrors for him. The Schumann was as finely conceived overall as any performance I recall, feeling as if being verily created as being brought to us; a truly moving account of one of my favourite works in the romantic piano canon. He has a capacity to relax amidst the furore and to use a palette of tone colours and dynamic range, down to a pianissimo which yet carries and holds an audience silent and spellbound.

Mikhail Shilyaev has recently extended his horizons by taking up the fortepiano, on which he is preparing music by C P E Bach with great enthusiasm; his next scheduled appearance is in Manchester with the demanding solo piano part of Messiaen's Turangalila.

Peter Grahame Woolf