Leighton Buzzard Music Club: Richard Uttley

LBMC’s ‘season’ runs from September of each year round to the following May, with concerts at roughly monthly intervals. This is my review for the first concert of the current season.

28 September, 2011

Rejoice! LBMC’s new season got underway on Saturday last (24th September). LBMC like to begin with a piano recital. And you may remember (if you’ve read these reviews before) that they have ways of bringing precocious young talents to Leighton Buzzard. Bring those two factors together and presto!: on stage is Richard Uttley, winner of last year’s prestigious Haverhill Sinfonia International Soloists’ Competition.

I must have had an unfortunate Bachian experience as a child – one so traumatic that I have wiped it from my memory. Suffice it to say my heart sank when I saw in the programme that the first section of the evening was two pieces by J S Bach. Oh dear. But instead of the relentless, long twiddly bits I was expecting this was Bach made melodic, with light and shade, with dynamics and variation where one had feared there would be wodges of metronomic notes. So: two Preludes and Fugues of expressive Bach later I was warming nicely to Mr Uttley.

Beethoven followed; the Sonata No 7 in D being quintessential Beethoven at his flashy best – a lovely vehicle for a young pianist. Richard explained that the ‘Presto’ explores a falling and rising scale, including musical jokes, so nicely pointed up that even I got them. The ‘Largo e mesto’ of the second movement was a tiny opera in a doleful, magisterial sort of lullaby form which broke into positively Bachian ripples of notes during the happy ending. The ‘Menuetto Allegro’, the third mini-movement, left one exhilirated, desperate to burst into applause – which, of course, would have been awfully infra dig. Fortunately the final ‘Rondo Allegro’, with its throwaway finale, delivered us to a similar place.

To complete the first half of the programme we were treated to Liszt’s arrangment of Wagner’s ‘Liebestod’ aria from Tristan and Isolde. As Stephen Fry says, no matter what you think of Wagner’s politics the man sure could write a tune. Here was emotional angst distilled, and we floated out for interval drinkies having been wrung dry.

The second half of the programme was lighter. Chopin’s Five Mazurkas, Op 7  was a lovely vehicle for Mr Uttley, who has a delicate touch that caresses what he wants from the piano, whether he’s creating a sarabande, a murmuring bass line, an exciting crescendo or a moment of limpid stillness. Debussy’s Images, Book 1 was similarly fruitful ground for him; being three lyrical little pieces with lightly sparkling, liquid motifs: espressivo!

The penultimate scheduled item, Three Mazurkas, Op 27  by Thomas Adès – a young composer still very much alive – presented more of a challenge for the listener. For the first time, Mr Uttley propped some music on the stand – but barely glanced at it. In these much more modern mazurkas there were still echoes of Chopin, sometimes sarcastic or funny. The first mazurka was slightly tipsy, the next stuffed completely full of trills. The third was poetic and mournful, despite the form. This was syncopated, minor-ish, spiky – very different from the lush, romantic music of Chopin and Debussy. It was a marionette with tangled strings, Rosinante having thrown a shoe. It’s always a treat to be introduced to new music.

Finally we returned to safer ground with the much-loved Polonaise in A flat, Op 53 by Chopin. Declamatory, exuberant, it adores the whole world and doesn’t care who knows it. It wasn’t, however, on this musical high that we wafted contentedly out into the balmy September night, but on Beethoven’s simple, elegaic Moonlight Sonata played for us as an encore. Remember you heard it here first: Richard Uttley will go far.

LBMC’s next concert is on 15th October in Leighton Buzzard Theatre and it’s a complete departure from their usual fare: the Temperance Seven are coming! It’s sure to be a sell out, so get your tickets soon. See LBMC’s website for details of how to do that.

Judi Moore

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