Review: John Paul Ekins, Recital, Aldeburgh Church of St Peter and St Paul, November 3

John Paul Ekins, Recital, Aldeburgh Church, November 3

The piano recital by John Paul Ekins, presented by Aldeburgh branch of the Save the Children charity on November 3rd, proved to be an event of festival quality. A large and very appreciative audience assembled in the parish church to hear the very gifted Mr Ekins put the church’s recently acquired Steinway through a stern test, from which both instrument and performer emerged with flying colours.

We heard classic purity in the opening Mozart sonata (K 311) in which Mr Ekins offered impeccably stylish and deft playing that allowed the crystalline tone of the piano’s upper register to come to the fore. Some dazzling Chopin, the elaborate Polonaise Fantaisie (op 61), completed part one of the recital.

However the heaviest guns in Mr Ekin’s impressive armoury were reserved for the second half. It began all sweetness and light with two divine Schubert Impromptus, which were included at the request of committee member Rosemary Wood. Then came the revelation of the evening, two of Liszt’s wonderful piano tone poems from the collection entitled Pilgrimage Years.

The second, The Bells of Geneva, a nocturne, was all delicate impressionism, harmonically a surprising foretaste of Debussy. The Valley of Obermann, which preceded it, is a grand evocation of nature in all its moods (including a thunderous tempest!). Pianistically it pushes the performer to the limit, requiring prodigies of technical prowess.

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But it’s also a soul-searcher: as Liszt himself declared, the onlooker is forced to consider his own nature: “What do I want? Who am I? What do I ask of nature?” John Paul Ekins was visibly moved by the end: his commitment had touched us all.

The recital ended with a virtuoso Study in Sonority (1967) by the French-Canadian composer Francois Morel, much influenced by Messiaen. Exciting stuff, but I would have preferred something deliberately cheerful - Children’s Corner by Debussy comes to mind - but at least the encore, Traumerei, was chosen from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood.

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All in all, this was a distinguished Aldeburgh debut, enlivened throughout by sensible introductory comments which were helpful without a hint of the dumbing down that these days mars so much musical presentation on the radio.

To conclude, Save the Children deserves our thanks and congratulations for arranging a top-rank recital and for providing excellent wine and canap�s to follow; it was nice to see Mr Ekins mingling with the crowd.

Humphrey Burton

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