“It was one of the best performances” and “Please have him back in another future season” were just two of the comments from members as they left the concert; and on hearing them, we knew the evening was a success. 

For the last soiree of 2016, we welcomed pianist Sam Haywood. We have invited many pianists in the last fifty recitals, but he was certainly one of those who instinctively understood our instrument and the acoustics of the room, making maximum use of both to satisfy the audience’s ears with beautiful quality sounds and a truly comfortable experience. 

Whenever I see a recital programme and spot Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata, I secretly curse “not again!”. This is one over-played work, often performed very badly. But this time – how shall I put it? – it was almost refreshing, by which I mean pleasantly different. There was no typical Beethoven-ish rigidness or forcefulness. The tone was humanely warm throughout; Grave showed as if there was a slight lightness of hope among the dark and solemn passages. In the Allegro to follow, Sam never forgot to pursue a melodic beauty during the famous left-hand, aggressive octave passages. The second movement Adagio was simply cantabile. No excessiveness, no decorative expressions, just a beautiful calmness and deep sincerity.

Schumann’s Papillions was a lovely drama consisting of twelve brief pieces, most of which were waltzes. It is meant to represent a masked ball where two brothers compete to win the heart of the same woman. Each individual episode was one joy after another to listen to and Sam kept an overall continuity and shape, which allowed the audience’s imagination to develop. His ability to let a singing melody play while keeping a good balance of accompaniment was wonderful; this is just a subtle thing which I always pay attention to when attending any concert. When the Finale featured the end of the ball with the repeated notes of a clock striking and the final chord, it left a nostalgic feeling that the enjoyable show was over.

Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso followed. The Andante was poetry that softly sang, and a huge but pleasant contrast was the electrifying Presto where the mood and texture switched completely. Flashy fast acts sparkled however, never losing sight of elegance and the rhythmical and melodious beauty.

During the interval we were all speculating what Sam’s ‘works to be announced from the piano’ would be. Well I do not think anyone’s guess was even close. He performed five ‘dolls’ (the Porcelain Doll, the Papier Mache Doll, the Witch Doll, the Rag Doll, and the Clown) from A Prole do Bebê by Heitor Villa-Lobos, grasping the distinctive characters for each. Everyone loved the passage of the witch doll when she mixed a magic portion – we could easily imagine the witch mixing unknown ingredients in darkness with a big grin on her face!

Next, five selected Preludes by Charles Villiers Stanford, a composer whom I believe is unknown to many, were introduced to the audience. 

Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brilliante was performed with a poise and pleasure. Brilliant, swirling and triumphant, Sam showed off his musicality and dexterity, as if demanding triplets and octaves were nothing to notice. 

Looking at Sam perform, it was obvious he felt great joy in performing – he played as if he lived in the music, in that very moment. I felt he performed every piece as if it was his own. His method of characterization was natural and subtle (which is the way it should be, no one wants to hear over-exaggerated and superficial music), be it by using effective timing, or by giving small cues. Often I wondered how the next note would be played, and this added big pleasure for me.

The encore was Chopin’s Nocturne No. 27, Op. 2. Pure and sweet calmness which we definitely need and deserve in our busy daily life.