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Warmth and communicability

Bernard Roberts' Romantic pianism launches the Glenilla concert season. MALCOLM MILLER listens.


The richly expressive pianism of Bernard Roberts in a well-balanced recital on Sunday 27 October 2002 of Beethoven, Schubert, Debussy and Brahms, formed a magnificent overture to the 2002/3 season of the Glenilla Arts Foundation. These monthly concerts, under the directorship of the notable cellist Andrea Hess, take place at the Church of the Christian Community, Glenilla Road, London NW3, a short walk from Belsize Park tube station and attract a regular following to hear established and promising new musical talent in an acoustically generous setting.

Bernard Roberts is renowned as a Beethoven interpreter (he is UK President of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe) and it was salutary to begin with the Sonata in A Op 101, from Beethoven's 'experimental' period of 1815-6 and one of the earliest of the composer's explorations of cyclic concepts in sonata design. Indeed here the gentle reminiscence of the first movement's main theme before the finale supported what Charles Rosen has highlighted as one of the main innovations of Romanticism, the idea of memory in music. The flowing lyricism and calm of the first movement were neatly contrasted by the piquant rhythms of the Vivace alla Marcia second, with plenty of incisive dynamics and tension in the stretching registers, before the inquisitive searching tenderness of the Adagio con affetto. The ebullient finale bristled with detail, particularly in the two fugal interludes that develop the initial, playful motif into a serious contrapuntal argument.

After this profoundly emotive, yet always disciplined performance, Schubert's Three Piano Pieces D946 proved an ideal complement. Overflowing in melodic invention, both the first two, in E flat minor and major respectively, use their substantial rondo form to integrate their respective rondo themes -- in turn dramatic and innocently lyrical -- with a variety of episodes that are in turn buoyant and plangent, intense and lilting. Bernard Roberts' pacing was marvellous, poised silences adding to the anticipation of each expressive section, moving seamlessly in and out of the Rondo theme. The final piece, in C major, features textures clearly related to the late piano sonatas and rounds off the set with panache, raising the intriguing issue of the whether the set was intended as a whole: certainly it sounded coherent and artfully shaped in this beautifully shaded and energised reading. Would that Bernard Roberts would present more Schubert on our concert stages.

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Copyright © 31 October 2002 Malcolm Miller, London, UK


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