“There’s one thing you must tell him – let him explore.” Josephine Peach’s advice to me for my 7 year old son, about to start his first piano lessons. What was joyful about Peach’s recital at Ripon Cathedral, the first in the new season of the cathedral’s traditional Thursday lunchtime free concert series, is that Peach herself is clearly still exploring; and taking pleasure in both the exploration, and the sharing of it with her audiences.
The carefully and thoughtfully curated programme was a surprise – a wide variety of short pieces, ranging from the atmospheric to the witty to the experimental, and aligned along several themes, including childhood, Christmas, and nature.
The echoing cathedral acoustic was perhaps not ideal for some of the shorter, more lively pieces, with detail and rhythm being lost in some places. But the full resonance came into its own in the more expansive parts of the repertoire.
The programme developed by Josephine Peach, part of a developing project this year, is very much constructed by a pianist, for pianists. Indeed, the recital was entitled as such: ‘Music for Inquisitive Pianists’. The music selected, as the pianist herself admits, is very much a magpie’s nest of shiny things: glimpses of humour, interesting key changes and references, pretty moments and flashes of beauty as well as pieces of deceptive technical simplicity specifically chosen to appeal to children and beginners. I felt rather honoured to be party to a very personal insight into the contents of the pianist’s pockets – little treasures that she has picked up along the way and kept.
Highlights for me included an extraordinary Mozart piece, the Gigue in G major (K574) – an experimental whirlwind of keys and expressions centuries ahead of its time. For those less inclined to be fans of Mozart, this was an insight: an intriguing and stimulating piece with a spark of genius. The contrast between the childlike naïveté of an early composition and the assured daring of the adult master was beautifully managed and explained by the pianist. Another highlight was Hengeeld’s ‘Prelude’, an unexpected experiment in musical time travel, the appreciation of which was much increased by the pianist’s explanation beforehand.
Peach’s presentation of her programme was lovely throughout, being educational but complicit and informal with her audience, and, in a way, self-effacing – the pieces were on show here, not the performer – even though it was clear from these little selections how profoundly Josephine Peach understands her instrument. Interesting though the selection was, her fun and affectionate rendition of Bennett’s ‘Four Calling Birds’ (a light-hearted homage to Satie’s ‘Gymnopédie’) left the audience longing to hear how skilfully and beautifully she would have handled the original.
With refreshments available at the beginning (for a much-deserved voluntary donation which goes entirely towards the running of the concert programme) Ripon Cathedral’s lunchtime concerts are a local institution and offer a wonderfully democratic way to enjoy classical music.