Concert Review – Sarah Beth Briggs (Piano)

Concert Review

Sarah Beth Briggs (Piano) – 16th October 2023

Sarah Beth Briggs playing a grand piano
Sarah Beth Briggs

Variations Plus

Theme and Variations has been a favoured form of musical composition, particularly since the Classical period of Haydn and Mozart, and Sarah Beth Briggs introduced her excellent recital for Penrith Music Club by explaining that all the works she was to play included some form of variations.

Making her second appearance at a Music Club concert, Sarah, the then youngest-ever finalist on the BBC Young Musician of the Year at the age of eleven, began with a delightful performance of Mozart’s Variations on a theme by Duport, an absolute compendium of the composer’s mastery in exploring all the aspects of variation form.

Hans Gal’s Sonata, written in 1927, followed – Gal is an underrated and prolific composer whose music Sarah has done much to champion. This was the period of Bartok, Prokofiev and Hindemith and the astringent and percussive textures common in that time were reflected in much of the writing, particularly in the sprightly minuet and the variation techniques in the chorale-like Andante.

The final movement was a formidable examination of technique, as were the Variations Sérieuses of Mendelssohn, which completed the first half of the recital. This extended set of 17 variations, built on a simple minor key theme, explored the full range of variation writing – a real virtuoso piece, but with a lovely moment of repose in the cantabile writing in the major key in the middle section of the work.

The second half began with Beethoven’s Variations on “God save the King” Described by BBC Music Magazine as “quite a hoot”, this lively and imaginative set of variations, with typical touches of Beethoven humour, was followed by two works in a much more reflective style. Schubert’s Impromptu in B flat is one of his loveliest works, its five variations full of subtle touches, its lyrical and relaxing nature beautifully conveyed by Sarah’s playing.

Chopin’s Berceuse too is one of his greatest pieces of lyrical writing, with an endless tapestry of ornamental textures woven over soothing repeated patterns in the left hand – a mesmeric and hypnotic piece, again played with the utmost sensitivity.

The recital ended with Chopin’s Ballade no.4 in F minor. Its subdued opening gradually unfolds into an epic drama, with endless ingenuity and ever more demanding requirements of the pianist – a thrilling end to a splendid recital, in which Sarah Beth Briggs’ informative comments about each of the pieces played were most helpful.

But …  it was not quite the end! A wonderfully schmaltzy rendition of Somewhere over the Rainbow as encore sent a good-sized audience away happily into the crisp autumn night.

Colin Marston

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