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Elaine Annable
Features Writer
1:50 AM 6th September 2020

Kathryn Stott, Leeds Town Hall. Out Of Isolation

As part of the city’s return from lockdown and the resumption of performance nationwide, Leeds Town Hall welcomed the hugely popular pianist and artistic director Kathryn Stott to present the second live music concert at Leeds Town Hall.

She said: “It seems almost miraculous to be able to give a recital after so many months of living in a performing wilderness, so to say I’m incredibly excited about this concert is a real understatement. As COVID-19 has given time and space a whole new meaning, I decided to create a programme called The Borrowers acknowledging that nothing in the past six months, has been quite as we know it.

The pieces I’ve chosen all have links to arrangements, variations, later adaptations, places I should have been, genres I’ve missed and a basic feeling that perspective has been changed. “

A Perfect Piece

JS Bach’s Siciliano was the perfect piece to open the evening; in a beautifully understated performance with exquisite gradation of tone, the audience was transported into a world of peace and tranquility. As the gorgeous melody rang out around the hall, I was surprised by how emotional I felt to be listening to live classical music again.

Next came a lively rendition of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which had great forward momentum in its outer movements and wonderful lyricism in its inner movements. Popular favourites, Sibelius’ Valse Triste and JS Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (arr Myra Hess), continued the highly entertaining, well planned programme.

A romantic, lush arrangement of Isolde’s Liebestod by Richard Wagner (trans Liszt), was followed by a mesmerising performance of JS Bach’s Prelude in B minor (trans Siloti). Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli was the highlight of the evening; the sheer virtuosity of Rachmaninov’s last work for solo piano gave Kathryn Stott the opportunity to demonstrate her exceptional technique.

George Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’, with its shimmering, cascading semiquavers, was a wonderful way to bring this charming, thoroughly enjoyable concert to a close, acting almost as a virtual hug between soloist and audience.

After the concert Kathryn Stott tweeted: “I am beyond happy! Thank you so much @LeedsConcerts and @LeedsTownHall for putting on these pilot events with so much care and attention. I had the most wonderful time performing tonight and I’ll treasure this evening for a long time. “

My verdict on the second live socially isolated concert at Leeds Town Hall was overwhelmingly positive. The organisation of this event was superb and I felt very well protected by the measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19: concert-goers are requested to arrive 45 mins before the start of the concert in order to be seated safely; seats are spaced 2 metres apart; the concert runs without an interval; the audience follows a one way route around the hall; and, of course, there’s plenty of the ubiquitous hand gel. On a personal note, I found that wearing a face covering for an hour and a half to be perfectly manageable.

One of the criticisms often levelled at live socially distanced concerts has been the lack of atmosphere, but personally, I didn’t feel that this concert was at all lacking in that department. A piano recital is an intimate experience and during the quieter passages it should be possible to hear a pin drop, rather than, as is too often my experience, the heavy breathing of the person next to you. A Mitsuko Uchida concert was totally ruined for me when an elderly gentleman manspreading for England, fell asleep and snored gently, but persistently, through the whole of the first half. So a couple of metres of separation from the person to the front, side, and rear, is my idea of heaven.

The next live event at Leeds Town Hall is on Friday 11 September when Rakhi Singh (violin), Ruth Gibson (viola), and Nicholas Trygstad (cello) of the fabulous Manchester Collective will perform a programme which will include: J.S. Bach solo works for violin, viola, and cello, excerpts from the Goldberg Variations and a pair of works by Edmund Finnis – 'Brother' and 'Sister'.

I would urge those who feel able, to take this opportunity to support the wonderful musicians of Manchester Collective during this incredibly challenging time.