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Bernard Roberts at Sutton House Music Society 1 February 2004

Bernard Roberts is a national treasure, looking venerable and a little frail as he comes onto the platform, though maybe not quite as old as he looks; his website is reticent! His most recent appearance for the Sutton House Music Society in Homerton, East London, was a great event, and a good reminder that these local music societies are a crucial element in the fabric of British musical life. This one, its home a notable National Trust stately house, is specially favoured. Located on a busy main road in a densely populated area of East London, its Barn Concert Hall is protected from penetration by traffic noise, the infrequent distant squeal of emergency sirens apart, and concentration was not impaired by the gentle pattering of rain on the roof.

An intimate space, filled some half dozen times a year by a loyal membership to hear selected musicians of the highest calibre, it boasts an enviable acoustic and a splendid Steinway on permanent loan to the National Trust. Definitely worth a journey, even though it is not 'on the Tube'.

The Steinway was tuned and toned ideally for a satisfying afternoon with this great pianist, who does not detract from his chosen composers by drawing attention to himself. The lower register is full and sonorous, the treble without the heightened brilliance that some star pianists demand. Two contrasted halves, first Debussy with each of his Preludes characterised surely, and enhanced with brief descriptive comments by Bernard Roberts himself. After a somewhat prolonged tea interval in the pleasant bar area, a confident and scrupulously accurate account of the evergreen Diabelli Variations, a journey never palled by over-familiarity, an untiring performance traversing all of Beethoven's moods and with every mark of articulation and dynamics respected. No blurring of passage work or evasions of difficulties in the more extreme passages, everything lucid and given without suggestion that it was "my Diabelli".

Bernard Roberts has an extensive discography, of which I have his CDs of the "48", Hindemith and Stephen Dodgson (this month being celebrated on his 80th birthday at the Royal Academy of Music). He has recorded the complete Beethoven sonatas plus the Eroica and Diabelli Variations, and has a preference for live recording; most recently an unedited and gripping (though not totally unblemished) recital given at the Chetham's Music School's Third International Summer School and Festival for Pianists, August 28th, 2003. which gives a good feeling of his prowess in a live situation (Dunelm DRD0212).


© Peter Grahame Woolf