It was a year ago minus a day, that Music Director of The Arts Centre at the University of Plymouth, Dr Robert Taub – a revered American concert-pianist and academic – stood at the very same spot, as he introduced the first recital to be given in the newly-renamed and refurbished Levinsky Hall, that had previously been known as Lecture Theatre One in the eponymous building on the university campus.
At that time Robert Taub had chosen a programme of piano music by Beethoven, Schumann, and Chopin, entitled Romantic Piano. A year later, while the theme and title – Piano Passion – had not changed significantly, still almost exclusively comprising more major works from the Romantic Era, the vast majority of those present will probably remember the recital more for what happened next, than the music performed.
Two youngsters in the audience were no doubt whiling away the time, as Dr Taub spoke about his chosen programme in the pre-concert talk. A hoax bomb threat sent from one youngster to the other, somehow managed to appear on some other audience-members’ phones by mistake, which, of course, immediately invoked the necessary protocol, involving a complete evacuation, and putting this milestone event in possible jeopardy. Fortunately, however, once the message had been confirmed as a hoax, Bob’s recital was able to proceed – virtually unscathed. Thankfully there were no such problems in tonight’s anniversary recital.
During the interval, there was a brief opportunity to see well-known local piano-technician John Steuart in action, as he leapt on stage to give the piano a mini health-check, following the workout it had received during the first half.
In my full review, details below, I again questioned whether the Steinway C (7’ 5”) – which, for many years, had given such stalwart service in the smaller Sherwell Centre venue – would be man enough to replicate this in the significantly larger Levinsky Hall? Serious deliberation had, of course, been given to this vital detail at the time, with the result that it would seem more expedient to improve Levinsky Hall’s acoustic, by bringing in large, moveable sound panels, which could then benefit not only solo recitals like this, but music of any genre and medium, in one fell swoop, rather than by acquiring a larger (8’ 11”) Model D full concert-grand for only one particular genre throughout season.
Prior to John Steuart’s fleeting on-stage appearance, Dr Taub had just given a stupendous performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit – a fiendishly difficult three-movement work, that makes as many physical demands on the pianist, as it does on the instrument itself, and if ever there was felt an overwhelming reason to have upgraded to a larger piano, then this might indeed have been. After all, if it were possible to drive the 45 or so miles from Plymouth to Exeter, flat out in a small super-mini, this would surely occasion far greater wear and tear for both car and driver, than would the exact same journey at a similar speed, but in a more powerful, larger, and more luxurious vehicle like, for example, a Tesla.
However, the panelling is still a work in progress, and more work is scheduled for the upcoming Christmas break, when the hall is not used for lectures. Either way – acoustic manipulation or a larger piano – I do think the jury is going to be out for some time to come, and at least until all the ongoing acoustic refurbishment is in place.
Meanwhile, you can read my full review at Seen and Heard International.
If you did miss this anniversary opening concert in the 2023-24 ‘Musica Viva’ series, then there’s always the next one to look forward to.
Last year’s following concert featured the combined musical talents of Mathilde Milwidsky and Huw Williams, and I’m delighted to say that these two outstanding artists are returning to the city for another fabulous evening of music for violin and piano – ‘Virtuoso Violin’.
It’s a really great programme, which opens with Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending – in a rarely-encountered version for violin and piano. This is followed by Anton Webern’s Four Pieces for violin and piano, Op 7, and then Beethoven’s A minor Sonata, Op 23. After this comes a real gem – Eugène Ysaÿe’s Solo Violin Sonata No 3, and the recital ends with one of the loveliest violin sonatas ever – Franck’s Sonata in A major for violin and piano.
Philip R Buttall
- Another spectacular recital from Milwidsky and Watkins - November 19, 2023
- Piano Passion | Robert Taub presents a stupendous performance - October 20, 2023
- A night at the opera | savouring each note with PSO - June 28, 2023