CD Spotlight. A Very Joyous Disc - Brahms arranged by Kenneth Woods impresses Alice McVeigh. '... this is an excellent performance representing a useful, joyful and even inspired addition to the orchestral repertoire.'
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Pianist Margaret Fingerhut is currently touring the UK with a recital programme designed to raise awareness of the needs of refugees, and to support local City of Sanctuary projects - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 15 March 2019.
Her intelligently-chosen play-list of music mostly by composers who experienced exile of one kind or another began with Wilhelm Kempf's transcription of the Minuet in G, HWV 434/4 by German-born, British resident Handel. At her request it was followed by a short silence, in lieu of applause, in tribute to the victims of the New Zealand terrorist attack.
Haydn often felt like an exile, stranded as he was every summer on Nikolaus Esterházy's country estate. His Sonata No 38 in F (Hob XVI:23) had only the gently understated melancholy of the second movement to underline the evening's theme, in between a typically perky opening and a finale with a characteristic throwaway ending, delivered with an engaging sense of fun.
Grieg never experienced exile, but three of his Lyric Pieces slotted neatly into the occasion, Fingerhut reaching for the soulfulness of 'Solitary Traveller' and 'Homesickness', and generating the mounting excitement of 'Homeward'.
Francis Pott's Farewell to Hirta commemorates the last remaining inhabitants of the island of St Kilda, who asked to be moved to the Scottish mainland in 1930. Fingerhut brought out suggestions of early Tippett in this sometimes turbulent, sometimes gently poignant seascape.
Two of Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux, Op 39, ended the first half: No 8, given a strong current to balance the melancholy, and No 9, never allowed to become over-clamorous.
Moutaz Arian is a Syrian refugee now living in Beijing, who composed the National Anthem for the Refugee Team at the 2016 Olympics. Margaret Fingerhut commissioned his Memories from my Land especially for this tour, and looked gently beneath the decorative surface to the underlying emotions.
Hans Gál fled Nazi-occupied Austria with his wife in 1938, settling in Edinburgh. The first and last of his Three Preludes, Op 65, were a pair of deliciously flickering scherzos, kept light and airy by the clarity of Fingerhut's playing.
Prokofiev effectively sent his exile into reverse by choosing to return to Soviet Russia after nearly twenty years in the USA and Paris. Arguably his greatest single achievement, the ballet score Romeo and Juliet was represented by two of the Ten Pieces, Op 75, he transcribed for piano. 'Montagues and Capulets' had an aptly strutting, slightly sinister air while, in, 'Romeo Bids Juliet Farewell' Fingerhut conveyed hints of lurking tragedy amid the tender lyricism.
One of the best-known of all musical exiles, Chopin kept faith with his native Poland through a succession of mazurkas and polonaises. The Polonaise in A flat, Op 53, got off to a slightly low-key start, which left plenty of room for it to grow in intensity.
Margaret Fingerhut was an expert guide to her selected pieces not only pianistically but also verbally, in her thoughtful, measured spoken introductions. If she's bringing this programme to a venue near you over the next eight months, you'll not only hear an evening of unostentatiously excellent piano playing, but you'll be lending your support to vital work on behalf of present-day refugees.