A remarkably good 50th anniversary for Sidmouth Music

women sat at piano

New pianist Claire Hammond - Credit: Sidmouth Music

For the Parish Church audience on Saturday, October 23, this was the first concert since Covid stopped the show in 2020. It also marked the 50th season for the society behind Sidmouth Music. From pianist Clare Hammond’s welcome return visit to Sidmouth it proved a remarkably good return to music making.

Recognised for her championing of lesser-known composers, Clare opened with a selection of études from Hélene de Montgeroult, composed around the time of the French Revolution. The aristocratic Montgeroult reportedly won freedom from imprisonment with her improvisation on La Marseillaise!

Five selected from the 114 etudes by Montgeroult showed how advanced her writing was for the time. Number 37 carried a repeated pressing phrase; 52 was airy and open; extensive hand crossing driving the nervy agitated feel of 65; 53 presented a constant stream of notes whilst 66 brought the set to its imposing conclusion.

In a new arrangement of Piazzolla’s Suite from Midsummer Night’s Dream written for his centenary year, Clare’s strongly rhythmic delivery showed the tango was never far away, even in music written for staged theatre performance.

Clare chose Brahms’ opus 118 set of six piano pieces to close her first half. Her measured approach brought out the sheer beauty of these reflective gems. Highlights were a plaintive and emotional andante, a robust ballad, a thoroughly absorbing romance, closing on another pensive andante.

Her second half opened on a world première of the five final preludes from contemporary composer Adam Gorb’s set of 24, following the precedent of JS Bach, Shostakovich and others. Gorb has successfully used this historic construct to present today’s music most convincingly. Clare is currently engaged in recording the complete cycle. 

William Grant Still’s piece The Bells proved a haunting ethereal evocation of the ghostly atmosphere in a poem of 1873 by John Townsend Trowbridge. Clare closed with Szymanowski’s Variations on a Polish theme, the generally light variations offset by a heavily rhythmic funeral march reminiscent of Mussorgsky and a triumphant lengthy finale. Another Montgeroult etude as encore provided a restful conclusion to this dazzling display of mastery.

Most Read

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter