United Kingdom Nocturne: The Romantic Life of Frédéric Chopin: Lucy Parham (piano) with Dame Harriet Walter and Alex Jennings, Chipping Campden Music Festival, St James’s Church, Chipping Campden, 8.5.2016. (RJ)
Nocturne in C minor Op 46 No 1
Polonaise in A Op 40 No 1
Waltz in C sharp minor Op 64 No 2
Ėtude in A flat Op 25 No 1
Mazurka in D Op 33 No 2
Ballade No 3 in A flat Op 47
Mazurka in A minor Op 67 No 4
Prélude in D flat Op 28
Prélude in G minor Op 28
Waltz in D flat Op 64 No 1
Nocturne in D flat Op 27 No 2
Ballade No 4 in F minor Op 52
Chipping Campden has once again eased the transition from the town’s Literature Festival, which took place last week, to its two week long Music Festival by presenting a programme of words and music masterminded by Lucy Parham. Lucy is not only an excellent pianist – she was the piano winner of the 1984 BBC Young Musician of the Year – she is also a musical communicator par excellence who demonstrates a strong rapport with the music she performs and possesses a deep insight into the character of the composers who wrote it.
Her notion of supplementing Chopin’s music with an account of his life seen through his diaries and letters and those of his contemporaries helped to put the works into context and made for an absorbing evening. Particularly intriguing was his affair with the novelist Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin – whose nom-de-plume was George Sand – whom he found “repulsive and unsympathetic” at first. Yet it was not long before the pair became an “Item” and decamped to Mallorca with Sand’s children where they hoped the balmy climate would alleviate Chopin’s consumption. Alas they were to find the Mallorcans were less welcoming to strangers than they are today in what is now a holiday Mecca. George Sand, once so flamboyant and versatile, changed into a motherly figure who nursed her patient devotedly and did all the household chores. This was a good arrangement while it lasted – 7 years, but eventually the relationship was “dissolved” – and with some bitterness it seems.
However the sequence of readings was not confined solely to Frédéric and George’s affair. We learned a great deal about the shy and introverted Chopin from other contemporaries such as the conductor Charles Halle, Franz Liszt (a more extrovert musician), the poet Heinrich Heine and George’s daughter Solange – and we could not have had more eloquent readers than Dame Harriet and Alex Jennings to speak the words, their performances harmonising so beautifully with the atmosphere created by the music.
But this was essentially an evening where the music took centre stage. At times it was used to amplify the text: the joyous Mazurka in D reflected the elation George Sand must have felt on learning that she had seen off Chopin’s childlhood sweetheart Maria; the rainy days the pair spent in a monastery on Mallorca were an excellent excuse for including the Raindrop Prélude in D flat. The pieces were generally well chosen and it was a pleasure to hear some of the shorter ones played not as individual items but within the context of the text, and Lucy Parham lavished the utmost care on each one of them.
Some of the works were substantial, though, and I was particularly pleased that each half of the recital concluded with one of Chopin’s wonderful Ballades. Lucy Parham surmounted the challenges of the optimistic Ballade No 3 with ease, while her performance of the No 4 with all its grandeur and profundity was a revelation and greeted with acclaim by the perceptive audience. The whole evening was a remarkable accomplishment and a splendid prelude to what promises to be a very fine festival indeed.
The CD of Nocturne is available on the Deux Elles label.
The Chipping Campden Music Festival continues until Saturday 21st May. Please note that due to visa problems and illness the Endellion Quartet will replace the Borodin Quartet on Tuesday 10th and Rosanne van Sandwijk Angelike Kirchschlager on Thursday 12th. Website: www.campdenmusicfestival.co.uk.