A masterful performance from Simon Callaghan

Simon Callaghan, pianist. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega

Simon Callaghan, pianist. Picture: Benjamin Ealovega - Credit: Archant

The second concert of the Sidmouth Music season in the parish church provided a display of exemplary musicianship, with a solo recital by international pianist Simon Callaghan.

On his Twitter feed, Simon had described his choice of works as ‘epic but great’, and he proved he was the master of all the great music he had selected.

The opening piece was a carefree sonata from Schubert, his A major D664. Simon brought out well the lightness of the first movement. The andante was Schubert in more tranquil mood and sympathetically handled before Simon found the joyful mood again in the final graceful dance.

Ravel’s masterpiece, Gaspard de la Nuit, is of an altogether different and sinister nature. Simon was not intimidated by the difficult writing and brought a shimmering magic to Ondine, the beguiling water sprite luring men to a watery end. Le Gibet was suitably macabre, the incessant tolling bell note, key to developing the tension, perfectly judged. For Scarbo, Simon found an insistent oppressive feeling to enhance the menace of the malevolent goblin portrayed.

After the interval, the audience was treated to a selection of pieces from unknown British composer Roger Sacheverell Coke. Written in the mid-20th century, the five preludes were an excellent introduction to Coke’s romantic sound world. Simon displayed well the charm and beauty, as well as the darker turbulent feelings to be found amongst the pieces. From this performance, it is evident why his recording of these works has met with such praise from the musical press.

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He closed with Chopin’s second sonata, the Funèbre with, at its heart, the incomparable funeral march. Simon launched briskly into the restless urgency of the first movement. The march itself had the audience spellbound, the magic carrying through the dense and tormented conclusion. To insistent applause, Simon returned to break the spell with the gentle opening piece from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, sending his audience home, well enchanted with the afternoon’s music.

Stephen Huyshe-Shires

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