United Kingdom Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy, Britten, Brahms: Jayson Gillham (piano), The Great Hall, Wellington School, Wellington, Somerset, 25.08.2012 (AB)
Jayson Gillham’s achievements in international piano competitions are significant. At The Royal Academy of Music (RAM) in 2007-09, he won the Bach, Beethoven, Romantic and 20th Century piano prizes, and as the RAM’s elected representative, he went on to win first prize at the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe’s Intercollegiate Piano Competition. In October 2010 he was a semi-finalist in the renowned Chopin International Piano Competition in Warsaw. Out of an initial 350 applicants, he reached the final twenty. Other successes include: Winner – Royal Over-Seas League Competition (London, 2012); First prize – Brant International Piano Competition (Birmingham, 2011); First prize – Prix d’AmadeO de Piano (Aachen, 2008); First prize – Australian National Piano Award (Shepparton, 2008); and Third prize – London International Piano Competition (2005).
He began his recital with J S Bach Toccata in C minor, BWV 911. The last “live” performance I heard of the keyboard music of J S Bach in this area was given in 2011 by another Australian pianist, Roger Woodward (reviewed on this site by Bill Kenny), when Book 1 of the “48” was played in its entirety. Reviewers always compare performances with that of the late Glenn Gould, but Gillham’s interpretation has little bearing on Gould’s. It is very much his own. Ranging from grandiose to delicate, the counterpoint was generally cleanly articulated, and he maintained a good forward impetus. The performance reminded me of Stokowski’s arrangements of Bach, being grand and bold in style.
On to the Beethoven Sonata No. 28 in A major, Opus 101. The piece opened stylishly, Gillham’s phrasing “breathed” and, at the same time, immediately commanded one’s attention. The dotted rhythms were boldly emphasised. Gillham demonstrated his prodigious technique and sensuousness in the slow movement, so much so that the local seagulls joined in from outside the hall. The fugue was dramatic, a full-bodied interpretation, which was enjoyed by the audience.
In Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 5 in B-flat major “ Feux-follets”, Gillham showed his mettle in producing the most beautiful shimmering tone on the Wellington School Steinway B piano and that technical difficulties pose no problem for him. The first half ended with Debussy’s Etude No 12 “Pour les accords” from 1915 and dedicated to Chopin. Not for Gillham the luminosity of other performers I have heard (Mitsuko Uchida, for example), he went full steam ahead with a powerhouse performance, emphasising the big chords and drama.
After the interval, we heard Britten’s, Night-Piece (Notturno), written for the first Leeds International Pianoforte Competition of 1963 and which Jayson Gillham told us he may play in this year’s Competition. I grew up in Suffolk and attended many recitals by Benjamin Britten at Aldeburgh and found Gillham’s interpretation very different from the elegance and restraint of Britten’s style of piano playing. Gillham again opted for a much more powerful approach.
It was, however, his performance of Brahms Variations on a Theme by Handel, Opus 24 where Gillham really came into his own. Written for Clara Schumann, this work showed Gillham’s great technical prowess, musicality and control in the subtle graduations in crescendi and descrescendi beautifully phrased, and the colour, contrast and character with which he imbued this demanding work made it a memorable performance. I felt it was the best of the evening.