Ken Walton: bringing brilliant pianists to Perth

James Waters. Picture: submitted
James Waters. Picture: submitted
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Just about everywhere you look at the moment, the piano seems to be dominating concert hall programming. I’m not imagining it.

Haven’t we just had an Edinburgh Festival that opened with the amazing Daniil Trifanov, then went on in similar vein with multiple appearances by Mitsiko Uchida, Nikolai Lugansky and Pierre-Laurent Aimard?

Aren’t we just about to witness a piano extravaganza in Glasgow, where Llˆr Williams and the Elias Quartet launch a three-year long series of mini-festivals covering the complete piano sonatas and string quartets of Beethoven? And elsewhere, isn’t London’s South Bank joining in this orgy of pianism with an astonishingly high profile solo series featuring hot names like Boris Giltburg, Cristina Ortiz, Till Fellner and Paul Lewis, among others?

This is, without a doubt, “the age of the piano”. Still not convinced? Then maybe the most intriguing Scottish series of them all will change your mind. Surprisingly, it’s not in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but in Perth, where the Concert Hall’s classical music creative director James Waters has put together a phenomenal series of Sunday afternoon recitals from early October to June, featuring names that wouldn’t be out of place in any major city concert hall. What serious music lover wouldn’t travel to hear Steven Osborne, Benjamin Grosvenor, Richard Goode or the amazing Denis Kozhukhin?

But why is it, says the former associate director of the Edinburgh International Festival, that Perth isn’t quite fixed in people’s minds as a major Scottish music venue? “It’s a commutable distance from the Central Belt, it has this wonderful new concert hall, it has around 25 good restaurants, it is the perfect cultural tourist destination.” So with all eight recitals in the Perth Piano Sundays 3pm series, the proposition for those who need to travel there is for a great day out.

The series certainly has an à la carte feel to it, both in terms of quality and choice. Refreshingly, there’s no theme per se, so a whole variety of tastes is catered for.

Osborne opens the series on 6 October with a solid diet of Beethoven that combines the Op.33 and Op.119 Bagatelles with the fiery “Waldstein” Sonata and the C minor Sonata, Op.111. What’s more, he performs on the very piano he advised Perth Concert Hall to buy.

Grosvenor – significantly grown up from the 12-year-old adolescent who lost out to Nicola Benedetti in the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year Finals – presents a November programme embracing Schubert, Medtner and Ravel. Former Edinburgh Festival regular Goode plays Chopin and Debussy in February. Llˆr Williams and the excellent Perth-born Alasdair Beatson fill the March and April slots and the series ends in June with pony-tailed genius Kozhukhin.

But there’s one other exciting aspect that sets this Perth initiative apart: two duo appearances by pianists Simon Crawford-Phillips and Philip Moore in February and May (plus an additional evening recital on 30 October), focusing on the art of the transcription. For apart from Schubert’s “Grand Duo”, the repertoire they will play will be more familiar in its orchestral guises. “We had set up these recitals before developing the entire series, and the intention was to present music the way it sounded at a time when we couldn’t always have the orchestral resources to hand,” Waters explains.

It certainly didn’t sound any less exciting, as the two-piano versions of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, or Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring will prove when they feature in Crawford-Phillips and Moore’s final recital.

Perth’s piano gluttony doesn’t end there, as the Concert Hall’s wider concert series (which starts this Monday with a lunchtime recital by SCO principal clarinettist Maximiliano Martin and pianist Julian Milford) features several other notable pianists. Those appearing in the Perth Orchestral Series include Paul Lewis with the SCO, and upcoming Russian Behzod Abduraimov with the RSNO.

By next summer, who knows, 
we might just be piano’d out. But in the meantime, let the good times roll.

• Maxilmiliano Martin opens the Perth Concert Hall Classical Music Season tomorrow with a lunchtime recital. Perth Piano Sundays opens on 6 October,