The evening of Saturday 18th September was the start of Leighton Buzzard Music Club’s autumn season. The season’s brochure promised both quality and variety – in particular the Russian pianist booked to open proceedings: Alexander Ardakov. Ardakov has an impressive discography, plays on Radio 3 betimes and holds a professorship at Trinity College of Music in London. This was his third visit to Leighton Buzzard. Thinking of all this I asked David Phillips before the show, “how do you get such good people to come and play?”. He smiled enigmatically. “We have contacts,” he said – and would say no more.
So on Saturday this most accomplished Russian pianist played for us Russian music as only a Russian can play it. We were given Tchaikovsky, Chopin (Polish, but who’s counting), Scriabin and Mussorgsky.
Ardakov opened with six short pieces by Tchaikovsky. They ran the gamut from lively to warm to soulful. One could picture the silver birch leaves falling in the forest; the rain dripping from the branches; clouds of breath in chilly air, feet dancing to keep warm. Next Ardakov gave us four Polonaises by Chopin. I have always thought of Chopin as being a bit misty and fey (I only know the Nocturnes). So the robust passion of these dances was a surprise. Ardakov spared nothing – certainly not the piano, which at times gave the odd tiny squeak of protest as he drew impassioned rivers and swirling eddies of notes from it. The Polonaises were very well received by the audience. Breathless, we made our way to the bar.
But the highlight of the evening was yet to come. To begin the second half of the programme Ardakov gave us three dainty and melodic Etudes by Scriabin. They were a delightful sorbet before the wonderful confection that is the Pictures at an Exhibition. Mussorgsky, apparently, wrote of how the music poured out of him in response to the memorial exhibition of Victor Hartmann. So did the music pour from Ardakov’s fingers. The music is wonderfully illustrative – from the stately minor chords of the ‘Catacombs’ to Baba Yaga’s hut scurrying about on its chicken’s legs – yet keeps returning to certain themes, which helps to hold the diverse ‘pictures’ of the music together. The most notable recurring theme is the Promenade, which was used for the theme tune of TV’s The New Statesman some years ago.
Finally Ardakov, most generously, gave us not one encore, but two! Your reviewer is not a classical music specialist, but I think the first was a Chopin Nocturne (and it turns out they’re not that misty and fey after all). The second was a piece of which I have a ‘Very Easy’ piano arrangement at home that I sometimes stumble through. Would that my fingers would behave in the way that Alexander Ardakov’s do! He enthralled us with two hours of scintillating music and was warmly rewarded by an appreciative audience at the end.
Leighton Buzzard Music Club provides an astonishingly high quality of music. If you’re a youngster – or have youngsters – playing instruments at school do come along. Many of the performers the canny Mr Phillips and his crafty committee engage are youngsters on their way up in the classical music world; some of them have been or are currently part of Radio 3’s ‘New Generation Artists’ scheme and/or have won other prizes and scholarships. When they’re household names you’ll be able to say you saw them at Leighton Buzzard first!