Review: Harrogate International Sunday Series, Old Swan Hotel, Harrogate

Pianist Martin Roscoe
Pianist Martin Roscoe

The Harrogate International Sunday Series of concerts is now a popular and established favourite event in Harrogate and this year’s programme looks more tempting than ever.

It is customary to begin the series with a piano recital which today was given by the leading British pianist Martin Roscoe.

Roscoe has delighted Harrogate audiences in the recent past and today’s recital was again most pleasurable, featuring an unusually charming selection of piano music representing different periods and contrasting styles, all with a French connection.

Bach’s Fifth French Suite, originally a harpsichord work, which opened the recital begins with an Allemande of uncommon elegance and closes with a Gigue requiring great technical facility and a firm coordination between the hands. Roscoe played all movements beautifully, with well-shaped phrases, expressive ornamentation and subtle pedalling. I wish he had played the repeats.

Martin Roscoe has recorded all of the Beethoven Sonatas and chose to play next a late sonata entitled Les Adieux.

The true test of a pianist is Beethoven and this sonata is no exception, being brilliant in rapid figuration and with constant changes of dynamics and technical challenges. All hurdles were successfully crossed and the overall performance reflected Roscoe’s mastery as did Chopin’s late masterpiece, his Barcarolle which ended the first half.

The second half contained all French music. Roscoe gave a brief talk on each piece before playing which the audience clearly appreciated. The Sonatine, Ravel’s homage to late!8th century musical elegance and classical structure began the half and was followed by the less well-known three Novelettes by Poulenc and the sixth Barcarolle of Faure. They could be classified as ‘salon music’ but that is of no matter; they are charming morceaux rarely performed which is why it was so good to hear them in this recital, perfectly played with a attention to textural balance and structural form, with well-contrasted dynamics and masterly use of the pedal.

This enjoyable recital ended with Debussy’s Pour le Piano Suite, which like the Ravel pays homage to earlier forms. As with much of the music in this recital it is deceptively difficult to play well, but the overall impression was again of complete technical and musical command which was well-projected to the capacity audience.

The concert was organised by Harrogate International Festivals.