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Freddy Kempf, Colston Hall/Angela Hewitt, St George’s March 22nd, 25th

March 27, 2011

And to follow Baaba Maal, a double classical indulgence. Kempf’s performance with the excellent Bristol Ensemble was the first of a mini-series in which he’s playing all five Beethoven piano concertos. We got 1 and 3 for starters, with Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (I only knew the prelude from an old Gary Burton recording) and some Faure from the orchestra.

The main offerings were both pretty fine – I’m not a huge fan of No 1, but it is still Beethoven, and Kempf turns No 3 into a fantastic show, full of absorbing interaction between piano and orchestra. No encore, and none needed. Long enough in fact to sit in a not very comfortable seat in the rather stuffy atmosphere of Colston Hall, but everyone had a thoroughly good time. Can’t imagine buying new rcordings of these pieces, but Kempf was signing CDs in the interval between playing the two concerti. They work concert artists hard these days.

Music making of this order takes place on a level where my judgment is pretty inadequate, but if Kempf’s playing was splendid, Angela Hewitt‘s on the Friday of the same week was positively transcendent. That had something to do with the programme, a Bach partita, Beethoven’s Eroica variations, a Handel piece, and Brahm’s attempt to outdo Beethoven on a theme from the Handel.

Both the variations are stunning, dramatic, and joyful compilations of inspiration, but the Beethoven in the first half was probably the highlight. A simply fantastic piece of music, which brought that part delighted, part regretful, “how did I miss this all these years?” feeling. Hewitt delivered it so that it felt like a virtuoso improvisation, as it once must have been. Simply jaw-dropping. There are parts which make me laugh aloud, listening again, but managed not to do that in St George’s. Once again, though, we were reminded what a fantastic venue this is for solo piano. Colston is a perfectly decent concert hall, but sitting a few rows back in St G’s is pretty much like hearing the instrument played in your front room. Magnificent sound, peerless playing. Like Hewitt’s last appearance here, this is one which will still be coming to mind for many months to come.

And back to St George’s on the 29th for Joe Lovano, probably my favourite improvising saxophone player – I’d be hard put to think of more than half a dozen in the world who play as well. What a month!

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