There are many Chopin recitals this year to celebrate the bicentenary of his birth. Sure enough, I went to one just last week, a concert by Yundi at the Royal Festival Hall. So, a big challenge for pianists is often how to differentiate their recital.
On 20 March, we welcomed Colin Stone to Breinton to a highest-ever capacity audience and our fastest selling recital to-date. Colin's programme included a variety of Chopin's works: a good combination of early and late compositions; and well-known, often-played pieces and less-known, less-played pieces. The evening, sandwiched between Ballades No. 1 and No. 4, appealed to me even before the recital started!
Although written several years apart, the two Ballades both tell us stories from life, and rather sad ones. Ballade No. 1 has two themes, in G minor and E flat major. The opening is very dark; sadness and despair that lingers around. When the beautiful E flat major theme comes in, you sense a moment of light and hope, then the Ballade proceeds to alternate between dark and light. The late John Ogdon said of Ballade No. 4, 'œit only lasts twelve minutes but has an experience of life'. Colin"s Ballades were dramatic and dynamic; he certainly showed us his ability to express colours and moods, contrasts between light and dark, and his interpretation of life. I particularly liked Ballade No. 4 - the final coda was most powerful and astonishing.
I wrote about the Ballades first but I didn't mean to skip over the rest of the evening! On the contrary, I loved the whole recital! Not only it was enjoyable, but I also made some new discoveries, for instance, Nocturne in C minor. Many of Chopin"s nocturnes are characterized by smooth and delightful melodies with an accompaniment of broken chords by the left hand. This one is totally different. Rather solemn and heavy, it had so much to offer, so much to express. Thanks to Colin, I now have added this Nocturne to my favourite Chopin list!
My second discovery was the Fantasie-Polonaise, the first piece of the second half. I must admit I had never liked this Polonaise. I am not quite sure why, perhaps it is because there are no dynamic ups or downs, or there is no lyrical melody that sticks to my mind, or there are rather too many themes. Colin did tell me later that it was indeed a difficult piece to play, difficult to make sense of. His playing was, however, most attentive and careful with details, and somehow magically appealed to me. I listened to it with great enthusiasm '“ see now I like this piece!
Then Trois Nouvelles Etudes, alll of them most harmonic and beautiful. I do now know why they are not played more often. I loved the last one in particular '“ a combination of staccato and legato at the same time by the right hand! Colin said it was most awkward piece for pianists, but did you sense any awkwardness? Absolutely not, it was stunning! It was so poetic too; if you didn"t look at Colin"s fingers busily working on the keyboard, you couldn"t possibly tell how technically demanding this piece was.
Colin then returned to the piano for two encores! A fantastic bonus. They were a study nicknamed 'So Deep is the Night' and Nocturne in E flat 'œthe other one'. He was the first performer to play two encores at Breinton! This was truly fabulous as everyone wanted to listen to him more, and a perfect way to complete our musically enriched evening.
Another wonderful evening at Breinton. Colin impressed us not only with his performance but also with his informative talk on each piece. His explanation showed his broad knowledge, yet very simply put so it was easily digested. Colin is off to Japan soon to perform at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan on April 3rd. Best of luck to him!
All Chopin Bicentenary Programme
- Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op. 23
- Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 27 No. 2
- Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48 No. 1
- Three Mazurkas, Op. 59
- Polonaise in A flat 'œHeroique', Op. 53
- Polonaise No. 7 in A flat major, 'œFantasie-Polonaise', Op. 61
- Trois Nouvelles Etudes in F minor, A flat major and D flat major, Op. posth
- Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52
Colin Stone first came to prominence in 1986 when he won the Royal Over-Seas League Piano Competition in London, his performance of Liszt's Dante Sonata at the Queen Elizabeth Hall being a notable triumph.
At the final of the prestigious Young Concert Artists Trust audition a year earlier, the famous conductor Sir Charles Groves praised the young pianist for his 'rare musical qualities and tipped him to succeed at the very highest level'.
Colin performs regularly for BBC Radio 3 and has has released three CDs of solo piano music on the Merlin Classics label with major works by Schubert, Chopin and Schumann, as well as music by contemporary composers'”Andre Tchaikovsky, Malcolm Williamson and Robert Keeley.
He combines his performing activities with his role as a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Read Colin's full biography.