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Notes on the performers
Imogen is a pianist and passionate teacher. She recently completed a Performance Masters at the University of Birmingham, taking lessons at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire. Much of the music you will hear from her today was played for her final piano recital. Imogen will be performing regularly throughout the year and working towards piano competitions, before she hopes to start an Advanced Performance Diploma at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.
As you can tell from her programme, Imogen specialises in and enjoys the piano Romantics. She is inspired by music from composers such as Chopin, Liszt, Tchaikovsky and Granados. Her playing has been described as extraordinarily ‘captivating and expressive.’ She hopes that the music today will relax and move her audience, giving them a moment away from the busy lives modern living demands.
Polonaise-Fantaisie in Ab major Op. 61
The composition marks Chopin’s ‘late-last’ style and is noted for its intricate form and complex harmonies. The fantaisie seems to consciously flow from one idea into another, while the polonaise appears nocturne-like. Chopin’s flexible use of form, sophisticated part writing and harmony perhaps perplexed people at the time, so the work was slow to gain favour. Franz Liszt went so far to claim that the piece sounds like ‘somebody caught in an ambush surrounded on all sides.’ Nonetheless, today the Polonaise-Fantaisie is celebrated for being a wonderful creation. It exhibits what so many of us love about Chopin’s music: a poetic narrative, formed of rich harmonies and sublime melodies, full of intense emotion and expression. The music is full of drama, especially towards the end where tension builds up to an explosive finish, before the reflective returns.
Sonata in B minor K27
The sparklingly Sonata in B minor, composed around 1738, permits the fingers to lightly glide up and down the keys. The pianist is required to cross their hands over while playing quick arpeggios. Influences of Spanish guitar music can be heard in passages of flourishing broken chords. Like the composer’s other sonatas, the music exhibits Baroque counterpoint and simple two-three-part writing. It is in binary form- two sections which are both repeated. Scarlatti’s melody writing, regular phrasing and use of functional harmony are all features that later influenced the formation of the classical style.
Nocturne in Db Major Op. 27 No. 2
The elegant nocturne was composed in 1836. By this time, Chopin was far into his career. The Db major nocturne is an example of Chopin’s developed, sophisticated writing. Listen out for the main melancholy theme that appears twice more. Jan Kleczyński lectured on the interpretation of Chopin’s works and observed Chopin’s close friend Julian Fontana playing this nocturne. Kleczyński noted, that each time the theme is heard, it should have ‘a different strength and shade of expression.’ The first iteration should be piano, the second pianissimo with the una corda pedal, and the final time ‘forte and entirely contrary to the printing of the text, which directs that it is to be taken delicately and diminuendo.’ He declares to play ‘the third time in a feebler manner produces no effect…’.
Étude Op.25 No.1
The shimmering study is the first in a set of 12, composed in 1836. It consists of entirely rapid arpeggios and harmonic modulations in and around Ab major. While the left hand accompanies, the right hand exhibits a tuneful melody hidden within sextuplets and occasional countermelodies in the inner parts. The challenge of this piece is to play accompanying rapid arpeggios continuously, at a fast speed, at a quieter dynamic than the leaping melody line and countermelodies. Great stamina is needed! However, Chopin’s études appear more than a technical exercise. They have a distinct poetic musical character and emotional depth. Composer Robert Schumann praised the work, calling it ‘a poem rather than a study’, coining the nickname ‘Aeolian Harp’. Chopin lecturer Kleczyński names the piece ‘The Shepard Boy’, explaining ‘Chopin directed his pupils to imagine a Shepheard boy taking refuge in a grotto to avoid a storm, playing the melody on his flute.’
Composed in 1890 for the piano, but also transcribed for guitar. The music is full of rubato and intense passion. The distinct Spanish sound is characterised by colourful elaborate melodies and rich harmonies, depicting the Spanish landscape. The work is in ternary form. The main theme begins in F minor and it is easy to hear how the music could be played on the guitar. The melody is elaborately decorated with ornamentation and dynamics change frequently. The tone colour in the middle section changes to a brighter ascending melody in F sharp major, before the first theme returns
Concert Étude No. 3 ‘Un Sospiro’ S144
The third étude in a set of three, composed between 1845-49. The pieces are intended for improving technique, but also for concert performance. The title ‘Un sospiro’ translates to ‘a sigh’; but was not given by Liszt himself. This composition is certainly breathtaking. A simple but ‘sighing’ melody in Db major is played over a rapid arpeggio accompaniment. Small cadenza sections requiring delicate fingerwork, a fast tempo and the requirement to cross hands, makes this work a technical challenge. At the end, the music slows right down, allowing the listener to sigh.
Ballade in F minor
A compositional masterpiece, completed in Paris, in 1842. It is the last piece in a set of four and considered the most technically challenging. Chopin effectively combines the use of sonata and variation form. The piece starts with a tranquil bell like opening, before the waltz begins with a lyrical melody. Further variations exhibit embellishment, counter-melodies, counterpoint, and a nocturne-like fioritura. At the turbulent coda, the music takes off at a fast tempo and tensions heighten. The music ends with four strong chords. As pianist John Ogdon states: ‘the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopin’s compositions… It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime.’