AN ENVIABLE TECHNIQUE
Matthew Schellhorn's Wigmore Hall début recital,
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL
Matthew Schellhorn's début recital at London's Wigmore Hall on Wednesday 7 May 2008 was a fascinating mixture of old and new. Schellhorn, a talented young pianist who has made Messiaen something of a speciality, chose a programme which ranged from Rameau and Daquin through to Ian Wilson and Messiaen, taking in Chopin, Mozart and Ravel on the way.
Schellhorn opened with Mozart's Suite K399, in itself a work which looks both backward and forward. Mozart wrote it whilst under the influence of Handel, but failed to complete the final Sarabande which has been finished by Robert Levin. Schellhorn's performance was poised and displayed admirable clarity.
He followed this with a fascinating sequence of bird-related pieces, playing Daquin's Le Coucou, Rameau's Le Rappel des oiseau, Dutilleux's Blackbird and Ravel's Oiseaux tristes (from Miroirs) in quick succession. He completed the sequence with Messiaen's 1985 Petites esquisses d'oiseaux. Besides their subject matter, the thread of commonality that ran through the performances was Schellhorn's combination of clarity, sense of line and brilliant technique.
He played the early pieces with a sense of clarity which was an admirable compromise between on the one hand trying to create a harpsichord sound on the piano and on the other ignoring the works' origins altogether and giving them modern, romantic gloss. In fact, Schellhorn seemed to apply this same sound world to the Ravel, which had almost too much clarity. Dutilleux's Blackbird acted as an admirable bridge to the Messaien, Dutilleux seeming to view the Rameau piece through a Ravellian haze.
You sense that Schellhorn is not a particularly Romantic pianist -- even the Mozart which began the evening was played with neoclassical purity. It is here that I must also address the sound of the Fazioli piano which he played. We were sitting quite far forward in the hall, which may have affected the sound, but the piano had a bright, brilliant, almost glassy sound. It seemed only moderately suitable for the Mozart, but in the Messiaen both Schellhorn and the piano really came into their own, the piano resonating Messiaen's complex chords in a magical way and adding to the dazzling clarity of Schellhorn's playing of the complex birdsong notation which forms the core of Messiaen's score.
Copyright © 12 May 2008
Robert Hugill, London UK