Peter Sykes at Hatchlands, Fenton House & in Bath
Following his clavichord recital for the British Clavichord Society, 21 May 2011, the American multi-instrumentalist Peter Sykes gave a lunchtime clavichord recital for the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park on 25 May. He began meditatively with the beautiful opening bars of the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat, BWV 998, better-known as lute or Lautenwerk music but equally affecting under the hands of a good clavichord player. Next came a chronological sequence of sonatas by C. P. E. Bach (Wq. 65/17, 1746), Mozart (K.282, 1774), and Haydn (Hob. XVI/41, published in 1784, the year when the Cobbe Collection’s fine Hoffmann clavichord was made). Finally to the 1790s: Haydn’s well-known F minor Variations (Hob. XVII/6), whose closing pages had a dark intensity that recalled the almost contemporary Beethoven Largo movement that Peter Sykes had played at the Art Workers’ Guild recital reviewed by Peter Grahame Woolf.
In the afternoon, visitors touring the Hatchlands stately rooms were delighted by Peter Sykes’s impromptu playing as he explored the historic instruments on display there, moving happily from harpsichords to virginals, spinet, another (smaller) clavichord, abundant square and grand pianos, and two organs. Hatchlands (near Guildford) and its instruments are well worth visiting.
Next day Peter Sykes played at another National Trust property that houses a keyboard collection, Fenton House in Hampstead, London, contrasting the Benton Fletcher Collection’s smallest clavichord (anon. c. 1700) with its largest harpsichord (Shudi & Broadwood in 1770). The clavichord, of the early, fretted type, has a small but captivating sound when skilfully played. Here Peter Sykes played the earliest repertoire of his tour, pieces by Luis de Narvaéz (16th century) and Malle Sijmen by Sweelinck (1562–1621). The central point of this all too brief session was a touching performance of Heinrich Scheidemann’s version of Dowland’s Lachrymae Pavan, that international Renaissance hit-tune, as Peter Sykes called it. He had selected a Scheidemann Galliarda and Variatio to round it off, and then showed equal imagination in his choice of repertoire for the large harpsichord, aiming, he said, to show its ability to hint at orchestral instruments and its internationalcharacter: a French-style Suite in D by Böhm, four imposing pieces from the Première Suite of Forqueray, and, bringing the harpsichord home to London, a transcription of the overture to Handel’s Rinaldo.
Peter Sykes had been at Fenton House earlier in the week as one of the judges for the 2011 Broadwood Solo Harpsichord Competition. The winner was Nathaniel Mander [R], a charismatic young keyboard player, born in Gloucestershire and London-trained, who has already won several other prizes for solo and ensemble playing. His prizewinner’s concert at Fenton House on 11 August can be recommended warmly, and it is part of a series of recitals at Fenton House through the summer, well worth investigating.
Peter Sykes' Clavichord recital at the Friends Meeting House, Bath, Friday 27th May 2011
Peter Sykes' final engagement in the UK was in Bath; how that came about a story in its own right.
Last year I was asked by a friend in Boston whether I could find a venue and an instrument for her clavichord teacher to play in Bath: something he had always hoped to do? As a member of Bath Quaker meeting, I was able to offer our elegant 19th century Friends Meeting House. The only suitable time was right in the middle of the Bath International Music Festival and we were able to offer Peter an hour-long slot in the first Friday, the open-doors evening.
Bath celebrates the first Friday of its International Music Festival with Party in the City. It comes alive with the Sound of Music from every open space or available building willing to open its doors to musicians of all ages and styles.
At the Friends Meeting House, Bath Quakers hosted such an evening, the highlight of which was a stunning clavichord recital by Peter Sykes.
This eminent musician from Boston, Mass. gave freely of his time and skill to entertain a small but ecstatic audience in our little downstairs meeting room, the main upper room being too cavernous for the delicate sounds of the clavichord.
He began with introducing us to the instrument, a modern one made by Andrea Goble of Oxford and kindly lent by George Hubbuck of Bath. Peter described it as a concert grand of clavichords! (George himself calls it The Beast, with great affection).
Seeming to require no music, Peter showed us his secret: an I-Pad on which he had all his scores, with a cunning pedal (Bluetooth-enabled, tech fans) to turn pages silently and seemingly effortlessly.
We were urged to show our appreciation by waving our programmes instead of clapping, so as not to disturb the quiet atmosphere needed. He began with JS Bach Prelude, Fugue and Allegro in E flat BWV 998 and moved on to the lovely Mozart sonata in E flat K282. Mozart apparently composed 'The Magic Flute' on a small clavichord, easy to carry and cheap to buy.
By then there was a general change of audience as people left and others came in. Peter was not bothered at all and likened it to First Night, which happens in a similar fashion in Boston on New Year’s Eve. He made everyone laugh and relax, which set the mood for the delightful Sonata in B flat Hob XVI:41 by Haydn, who had visited Bath in 1794 staying with Rauzzini in Perrymead. The programme concluded with a stunning rendition of Bach's magnificent Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue.
Peter Sykes' dexterity and musicality shone throughout and the delicacy of this gentle sensitive, instrument was shown to perfection. He amused and awed us all in equal measure so that we could contain ourselves no longer and the room erupted with a real round of enthusiastic applause.
And as if that wasn't enough he offered to show the instrument and its workings to anyone who care to stay.
What an evening! Truly memorable.
Thank you Peter!