Romantic masterpieces uplift and inspire

Cordelia Williams, a rising star in the world of classical piano and Hampshire resident, thrilled the audience in her sold-out concert with the Petersfield Orchestra on Thursday 23rd March.  She played the famous Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor flawlessly, displaying total command of the instrument both technically and expressively, and richly deserved the warm ovation she received from the Petersfield Musical Festival attendees.

Speaking after the concert, Cordelia said: ‘Everything we did in rehearsal came together tonight. Robin Browning’s conducting was clear and the ensemble excellent. Schumann is very close to my heart.’ Notable amongst the orchestral sections was the wind, which provided a playful dialogue with the piano, in particular the oboes and clarinets. The strings also took up the main musical themes which cascaded from cellos to violins. Particularly effective was Cordelia’s passage-work during these moments which gave a wash of delicate filigree piano sound and which was delivered with utmost delicacy and beauty.

The Schumann concerto is a pillar of the romantic piano repertoire. A huge symphony orchestra sets up the passionate climaxes, but playfulness and the dance are never far away in the contrasting sound-world. It was written as a statement of Schumann’s love for his beloved wife, Clara, and the exuberance and energy of his inspiration never flag from the opening to the final powerful and triumphant chords.

In the pre-concert talk Cordelia demonstrated she is not just an ordinary pianist. A young mother herself, she has written a book called the Happy Music Play Book, which sets out musical activities for young children, emphasizing the importance of music in child development.  Music education is a cause close to her heart, and she is currently fund-raising for a Kenyan pianist to finish his studies at the Birmingham Conservatoire. Her CD, Nightline, was recorded specifically for lonely mothers feeding their infants in the middle of the night.

After the interval, conductor Robin Browning gave a fabulously rousing rendition of a late romantic musical cornerstone, Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Both audience and orchestra were uplifted by the superb melodic themes and orchestral ingenuity which deploys every instrument idiomatically, particularly the timpani, brass, percussion and winds.

The Enigma Variations gives a portrait of Elgar’s ‘friends pictured within’, each cameo depicting a particular character. The Petersfield Orchestra played confidently and with total commitment, clearly relishing the big sound and famous, surging themes. The Hall was hushed with awe during the beautiful Nimrod variation.

First up in the concert was the lesser-known Mendelssohn’s Overture, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op.27 which had echoes of his more famous maritime work, The Hebrides Overture or Fingal’s Cave. This was another example of romantic music-making for enjoyment and delight, painting colourful pictures inspired by two poems by Goethe with all the composer’s characteristic craftsmanship and technical command of orchestration and musical effects. It provided a perfect ‘amuse-bouche’ for the big musical works to follow.

In all, a wonderful evening of romantic music created and played with huge inspiration and energy by an orchestra on top form.