Thursday, 8 October 2015

A performance to treasure from Kathryn Stott on her new recital of French works for BIS

British pianist Kathryn Stott was born in Lancashire and studied at the Yehudi Menuhin School and the Royal College of Music. Her teachers have included Nadia Boulanger, Vlado Perlemuter and Kendall Taylor. She was a prize-winner at the Leeds International Piano Competition 1978 and is now a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and was recently made an Honorary Member.

A regular visitor to international festivals both as soloist and chamber musician, she has recently performed at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC and the Tonhalle, Zurich as well as making a welcome return to the BBC Proms performing with the BBC Concerto Orchestra. In 2014, she also toured the UK with cellist Giovanni Sollima and performed for the first time with JP Jofre and his Hard Tango Chamber Band in New York. This year began with a highly successful tour of New Zealand and, this autumn, she will undertake an extensive solo tour of Australia before continuing her concert schedule in the Far East. 2015 also celebrates her 30 year partnership with Yo-Yo Ma.

Kathryn Stott’s repertoire is vast and includes a particular interest in contemporary music. She has had many works written especially for her and, in particular, her close musical relationship with the composer Graham Fitkin leading to seven world premieres. She is a remarkable exponent of Tango and other Latin dance music, reflected in her collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and leading South American musicians.  She has been the artistic vision behind several major festivals and concert series.

Kathryn Stott’s great affinity with piano music, particularly Fauré is well known, indeed following her Hyperion recordings of Fauré’s complete music for piano she was appointed Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French Government.

Now for BIS Records she has recorded a recital of works by the French composers Jehan Alain, Henri Dutilleux, Maurice Ravel and Olivier Messiaen entitled Solitaires, reflecting the radiance and elegance of a solitaire or single mounted diamond and as a description of 20th century French music.

BIS 2148
Organist and composer Jehan Alain (1911-1940) was from a musical family. His father, Albert Alain (1880–1971) was an organist, composer and organ builder who had studied with Alexandre Guilmant and Louis Vierne. His younger brother was the composer, organist and pianist Olivier Alain (1918–1994) and his youngest sister the organist Marie-Claire Alain (1926–2013). Here Kathryn Stott brings us his Prélude et fugue (1935). She brings a remarkable clarity to the opening flourishes and scales of the Prélude before the music settles to a slow steady melancholy theme. There are further flourishes before the music continues its slow forward tread. There are some very fine, lovely little details, rising more forcefully before the quiet conclusion.

There is a tonally free flowing Fugue that wanders all over the keyboard, Stott bringing a fine forward flow as well as some subtle dynamic variations.

Henri Dutilleux (1916-2013) was seemingly unaffected by many of the developments of 20th century music, forging his own style with a lovely blend of harmony and colour. His Piano Sonata (1946-48) opens with an Allegro con moto to which Stott brings a fast, gentle forward flow with a tremendous fluency. The music builds in dramatic strength, Stott finding a fine contrast between the gentler passages and the more dramatic. There is such a wonderful freedom and, indeed, feeling of spontaneity here. The music becomes even fiercer before falling back slowly. Stott displays some powerful playing in the more intensely dramatic episodes with some thrillingly fast and fluent passages. Her playing has a fine evenness of touch with wonderful control of all the varying moods, dynamics and tempi.

There is a slow, quiet, thoughtful opening to the Lied. Assez lent where Stott finds a hauntingly beautiful, withdrawn quality. She brings a subtly steadier forward motion, providing a lovely continuous flow. The music falls to a pause before a rippling, flowing series of rising and falling scales appears, creating a lovely passage as it increases in strength before resuming a gentle flow. The music becomes even quieter as it gently makes it way forward to find its way to the hushed coda.

Forceful chords sound out with a bell like clarity in the opening of Choral et Variations, contrasted by some richer chords. As the theme is developed it quietens momentarily but the louder chords return. A fast descending scale introduces the Vivace variation with a pulsating, rhythmic theme building through some terrific passages of the variation marked Vivo with staccato chords and fast rippling passages again with a terrific freedom. Stott’s intricate touch is terrific with passages that have fine rhythmic bounce. When the third variation, Calmo, arrives it brings slower, quieter rippling phrases that move beautifully forward in a leisurely way. The music picks up for the fast rhythmic Prestissimo variation and, as the coda is reached, the bell like chords return bringing a sense of completion.

This is a tremendous sonata given a marvellous performance

Towards the end of the First World War Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) was in poor health.  However his creative urge was still there and he was working a piece for piano, Le tombeau de Couperin, parts of which were later arranged into an orchestral suite. It may well be that he had already written some of the music earlier as the score is dated ‘July 1914, June-November 1917). It was intended as a tribute to Couperin and eighteenth century music in general. The original piano version is in six movements opening with Prelude. Vif . Here Kathryn Stott is impressively fast and fluent, again with a brilliant clarity as well as lovely, subtle rhythmic inflections. This is intoxicatingly played. There is a fine delicacy in the following Fugue. Allegro moderato with this pianist allowing the music to rise naturally before the quiet coda and always with a natural freedom of flow.  Stott brings a light rhythmic skip to the
Forlane Allegretto, exquisitely played with some delightfully light and delicate phrases. She brings a jewel like quality, so sensitive to Ravel’s sound world.

Rigaudon Assez vif provides a real contrast, full of life and energy with some terrific dynamic passages and a central section that brings back a quieter and slower rhythmic pace. The Menuet Allegro moderato is beautifully paced with a rather nostalgic air, Stott catching Ravel’s distinctive atmosphere perfectly before rising majestically in the central section. Again Stott’s seamless flow is impressive. With the concluding Toccata Vif Stott’s rhythmic clarity is fully in evidence. Centrally there is a lovely delicately flowing section before this pianist builds later stages formidably to lead to a terrific coda.

This is a performance to treasure.

It was towards the end of the Second World War, in 1944 that Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) wrote his Vingt Regards sur l'enfant-Jésus (Twenty Contemplations of the Infant Jesus). From this Kathryn Stott has taken the fifteenth of these pieces, Le baiser de l'enfant-Jésus (The kiss of the infant Jesus). Stott brings a hauntingly beautiful opening, finely phrased and controlled, slowly laying out Messiaen’s lovely harmonies. The music develops through some crystalline, more flowing passages before rising to a stunningly fine dramatic section, eventually finding a gently rippling coda. 

I have been lucky enough to hear a number of very fine recital discs in recent months. This must rank as one of the very best. The recording is exceptionally clear and detailed, even by BIS’ high standards. There are informative booklet notes.

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