Maki Sekiya (piano)
Henry Neill (baritone)

Iffley Church Hall, Sunday May 8th 2016

Maki Sekiya and Henry Neill

High praise indeed for the wonderful piano playing of Maki Sekiya: it was a privilege to have the opportunity of witnessing one of her rare performances. This took place at a concert of the Iffley Music Society on May 8 at the parish church. Born in Japan and already a prodigy at the age of 10 she became a scholar at the well-known Purcell School and later studied at the Moscow Conservatory.

From the first note her audience was spellbound. Technical command of the score goes without saying at this level but what was so remarkable was the range and depth of the emotional projection. She transformed Busoni’s virtuostic piano transcription of J.S.Bach’s violin Chaconne into a gigantic romantic fantasy, full of passion yet with the most delicate contrasts of mood and dynamic. A number of “scenes” from the Schumann Kinderszenen demonstrated the pianist’s magical pianissimo playing, both slow and fast. The first half of the concert concluded with a faultless execution of Chopin’s Andante spianato et grande polonaise brillante. Spianato means smooth or even and this particularly applies to the flowing left hand accompaniment of a delicate and very Chopinesque melody. The polonaise was given a wonderfully exciting performance, fast, dynamic, and in complete contrast to the dreamy andante. Contrary to what one might expect of a piano recital in a church the sound was not overwhelming but beautifully controlled by this remarkable pianist.

After a brief interval Maki Sekiya was joined by the baritone Henry Neill, former choral scholar of St John’s College Cambridge, student of the Royal Academy of Music and now embarked upon a professional singing career. John Dowland’s In Darknesse Let me Dwell enabled the audience to appreciate the singer’s large and very beautiful voice in a delicate song better suited to an accompaniment of lute than piano. The relevance of this song, however, became evident in the following work, Darknesse visible (for piano solo) by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ad├Ęs. According to the composer this is an “explosion” of the Dowland song and it could be that some in the audience were awaiting an explosion. Instead, successions of rapidly repeated notes, mostly in the centre of the keyboard and pianissimo, alternated with isolated louder individual notes, mostly at the extremes. Maki gave an excellent performance of a work which suited her perfectly.

Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe, was the final work in the programme and for once one felt that the church was not quite big enough to absorb so much sound. Both singer and pianist acquitted themselves honourably, however, in one of the finest works of the repertoire.

This was a well chosen programme for a Sunday afternoon and a memorable concert. All thanks to the organisers of the Iffley Music Society.

Peter Billington