Sparkling performance enhanced by pianist's eloquence and grace
Faithful, sensitive and meticulous are the words that perhaps best describe the musicianship of Maria Thompson Corley.
From a technical standpoint, she is a superlative pianist who at the same time articulates exquisitely both the broad descriptive aspects and the nuances of the pieces she performs. It made her performance on Friday evening one that was deeply thoughtful and at the same time really engaging the audience was entranced from her opening bars to the final of two encores performed in the aftermath of a standing ovation which had the entire theatre on their feet.
It is with pride that we can say that Dr Corley has close Bermuda connections, and those connections are musical her grandmother Cecily Caisey was a piano teacher.
Her programme featured much-loved works and others that were, to some of us, delightful discoveries.
One of those was written by the contemporary African American composer H Leslie Adams, who collaborated with Dr Corley to record his ‘Twelve Etudes'. As Dr Corley has described them: “They are highly representative of his compositional language, including jazz-inflected syncopations, neo-romantic harmonies, and the strong melodic sense one would expect of such a brilliant composer of songs.”
From this collection, Dr Corley played the Etude in A minor; it was a performance to savour and a revelation of a piece, one that could have been inspired by Aaron Copland's expansive works describing the vastness of the American frontier.
Dr Corley devoted the second half of her concert to Robert Schumann's Carnaval, Op 9, which includes a famous musical puzzle, and less esoterically descriptions of his friends as they appeared in that famous Venetian masked theatre present and future lovers are described and fellow composers Chopin and Paganini are depicted.
To further complicate the scene Schumann paints himself into the picture, portraying his own various moods as two distinct personalities, the more restrained Eusebius, whom he describes in the E-flat Adagio, and the colourful Florestan in the G minor Passionato. There is a sense of sometimes standing back from the ball, watching it unfold from a distance, and it is that sense that this pianist has captured. From the famous clown depiction of Harlequin, to the flirtations and romance of the event, this is a really charming work, though famously challenging and Dr Corley performed it with a meticulousness and subtlety that upheld and enhanced its descriptive qualities.
The ebb and flow that underlies all that is Venice is there, and this elegant and meticulous pianist expressed it gorgeously. She had taken us to Venice earlier in the concert when she performed Frederic Chopin's Barcarolle, Op. 60. A gondoliers' song, this is an elegant piece that also captures the rhythm of this city of water.
The life of the black Mozart, Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint Georges, would make a wonderful costume drama: born to a beautiful slave girl and the Governor of a French colony, he became the darling of the French court of Louis XVI. He was, of course, a superb composer and the finest swordsman of his day. Tragically, he supported and survived the French Revolution only to die in penury. While much of his music was destroyed during the Napoleonic era, some did survive and today he has been rediscovered and honoured with a Parisian street named for him.
Dr Corley's sparkling yet delicate performance of the Chevalier's sublime Adagio in F illustrates exactly why he was often compared to Mozart as the pianist herself described it, this piece is a gem of the classical period; it reflects the style precisely and with all the joie de vivre for which Mozart himself was so famous.
Dr Corley had opened the evening with a work that was to contrast with the rest of the programme; it was Beethoven's Op. 13 Pathétique. The composer wrote vast amounts of music for the piano, and of all his works, Pathétique is among his best known. This highly dramatic piece provided Dr Corley with much opportunity to demonstrate her extraordinary sensitivity as she explored the drama, passion and colour of this most expressive of composers. Beginning with this beautiful and emotional piece provided the audience with a clear introduction to the pianist's cerebral and nuanced approach.
As an aside, Beethoven dedicated the piece to his patron Prince Lichnowsky. His stormy nature is clear in the story of the conclusion of their relationship, when the composer took offence at being asked to perform for the Prince's friends. Walking out, he said: “There are many princes and noblemen, but there is only one Beethoven.”
And there is only one Maria Thompson Corley. But happily for Friday evening's audience, she is a far more gracious and generous artist who shared her extraordinary musicianship with eloquence and grace.
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