‘Perth Piano Sundays’. Even the name says: ‘Relax’.
Easing you towards the end of the week, the Perth Piano Sundays series at Perth Concert Hall offers the perfect Sunday afternoon musical indulgence.
Showcasing some of the finest international pianists, the series runs monthly until May 2017.
Offering Bach to Beethoven and Stravinsky to Liszt, it’s a monthly tour of classic and virtuosic piano works.
We had the privilege of attending on 12 February when Sophie Pacini, a multiple prizewinning pianist from Germany was performing her first recital in Scotland.
Horsecross has the Perth Piano Sundays formula just right – an afternoon recital preceded by an optional 2-course carvery lunch. It had been years since I’d eaten a carvery lunch in Perth; the wait was worth it. Lunch included everything you’d expect from a traditional carvery; a choice of ham, pork and beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the vegetable trimmings.
The two-course sitting was a very reasonable £12.50 per person and we topped it off with rhubarb crumble and a vanilla cheesecake slice.
The concert started at 3pm. This being my first Piano Sunday, I’d expected an intimate setting and wondered how the large auditorium would serve us. The stage looked stunning, framed in red lighting, with a Steinway centre-stage. The auditorium offered the grandeur and acoustics these performers deserve but the lighting drew an intimate backdrop. We were in row 5; perfect viewing for two amateur pianists who wanted to not only hear the music, but marvel at the technique of our soloist. (It’s fair to say that our inadequacies were reinforced within the first two bars).
The performances even come with their own presenter. Kate Molleson, a music journalist, set the scene for the event and introduced us to both the performer and the music. Born in 1991 in Munich, Pacini is only age 25 and has already performed in renowned concert halls across Europe.
Pacini entered the stage dressed in sunshine yellow – a welcome splash of colour on an otherwise very grey February Sunday in Perth. I was struck by her humility and almost shyness as a performer, which was apparent from her first acknowledgement of the audience to her last bow. It immediately drew me in. This was no air of showmanship about this performance. This performance was coming from deep within.
We were spoiled by a top trio of composers in a programme that offered a mix of vibrant energy and absolute tranquillity. The programme opened with Chopin’s Nocturnes 1 & 2, Op 9. Pacini’s performance was beautiful, tranquil and looked effortless. The lighting and proximity of our seats were so intimate that we may very well have been sitting in Pacini’s living room listening to her perform. With Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B flat minor, Op 31 we started to see Pacini’s virtuosity; an energetic performance that was the most enjoyable of the colourful Scherzo I’ve heard.
The first half closed with a treat, as we heard Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C major Op 53, ‘Waldstein’ and one of his best loved Sonatas. Our presenter informed us that this was the first Beethoven Sonata that Pacini had learned, aged 13. (I was slightly awestruck. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of a ‘starter’ Beethoven sonata. The young pianist likes a challenge). Pacini delivered a thrilling performance with absolute precision and total control. The momentum and triumph that builds at the end of the work always brings a smile to my face and Pacini delivered it with all of the energy and excitement that I had hoped for. Plus a good bit more.
The second half of the concert was dedicated to Liszt. Perhaps my favourite moment of the programme was Liszt’s Consolations Nos 1, 2 and 3, which were beautifully expressive. Every note, every phrase just… breathed.
The young pianist’s technical virtuosity is outstanding and no more apparent than during the final work by Liszt. Reminiscences de Don Juan is a fantasy for piano on themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Our presenter Kate had prepared us for the ‘technical wizardry’ of the composition and the fact that mastering it often served as a marker of reaching ‘the height of pianism’. Pacini’s expression, tone and technical virtuosity came together in the ultimate finale performance and left us applauding loudly and wanting more. Which Pacini then kindly delivered with an encore in the form of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6.
The entire experience took us to 5pm. What an afternoon!
Perth Piano Sundays. Try it. You’ll love it.