Review: Lunchbreak Concert with Matthew Schelllhorn


In collaboration with the SOUND FESTIVAL 2018



Thursday 25th October, 2018

This Thursday saw the first of two concerts this season presented in collaboration between the Lunchbreak Concert Series and this year’s sound Festival. Our virtuoso performer in a concert of music by all female contemporary composers (one of this year’s special Festival themes) was pianist Matthew Schellhorn. One of his teachers was none other than Yvonne Loriod, the wife of Olivier Messiaen, so with regard to the contemporary keyboard repertoire, we were in regal hands.

Every one of the four works in the concert, but two in particular, required fantastic technical ability and refined musicianship and with Matthew Schellhorn that is precisely what we got.

Audiences at performances of contemporary music sometimes complain that ‘there are no tunes!’ Well they could hardly say that of the opening work Becher (is that the German for cup?) by the Irish composer Jennifer Walshe, it did not just have a tune, it had nearly all the tunes. It was a kind of musical collage in which small very recognisable excerpts from famous piano pieces were sort of glued together to make a whole work. It was as if you were listening to a radio moving from channel to channel all of which were broadcasting virtuoso piano music. I was also reminded of an old television quiz programme entitled ‘Name that tune’. There were quite a few Beethoven sonatas, a scrap of Scott Joplin and the Grieg Piano Concerto which moved up the piano transposed from key to key. To create such a work is not as easy as it might seem. The composer has to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the classical piano repertoire as well as keys and rhythms in order to put so many pieces of music together. It worked surprisingly well and of course proved the prowess of today’s pianist without a doubt.

The same was true of the second piece, ‘The Art of Touching the Keyboard’ by the Scottish composer Judith Weir. It tips its hat to ‘L’Art de Toucher Le Clavecin’ by the French composer François Couperin. This was a whole volume of studies but Judith Weir has managed to include a vast array of challenging études in just a single piece. I was glad that I was sitting where I could see Matthew Schellhorn’s hands as he progressed through an astonishing range of testing piano techniques. I thought he came through with flying colours as did the piano which was also thoroughly tested.

‘Serein’ (middle old French for nightfall) by another Irish composer was a gentle evocative piece possibly a musical descendent of Debussy’s ‘Pagodes’. It was not a copy of that Debussy but it boasted attractive chiming chords. Serein was receiving its Scottish Première as was the final work in the concert.

‘Pentecost’ by Diana Burrell is a co-commission by sound. The composer was present in the Citadel to hear the performance of the piece requested by and dedicated to Matthew Schellhorn. It was actually her birthday today and Schellhorn decided to sing as well as play. No, not Happy Birthday but rather the quite extended piece of plainsong which Diana Burrell has put at the heart of her three movement work. Her excellent programme note described perfectly a work whose pianistic dressing of the plainsong brought, in its three very different movements, three dazzling cloaks of piano technique with which to surround the basic plainsong. In the opening movement the plainsong melody sang out strongly in the lower piano register with glittering glissandi as decoration and in the finale the left hand produced a thunderous backing above which soared the fiery virtuosity described in the programme note. Can I conclude by giving special praise to our page turner for the day Dr Roger Williams. In every piece and most of them remarkably challenging to follow, he was always there precisely on cue and never getting in the way – something any good pianist would always w