Piano Recitals: Nicholas McCarthy & Clare Hammond

October 17, 2019 by

Live piano music has become one of my great loves. Through concentration and commitment, the experience is usually highly beneficial, cathartic even. A day of music for piano was a fine way to pass the time as this review will prove.

Nicholas McCarthy has made news as being the first pianist to graduate at the Royal Academy of Music with only his left hand. Discouragement has never been his foil, as he has proven himself, never being defined by the absence of a second hand. This concert comes at a time when performers who are differently bodied and abled, are being considered for much many opportunities then ever before.

Thanks to the wry insights of McCarthy at St David’s Hall, there are a few reasons as to why the left hand piano repertoire exists, heralding from the 19th Century. Sometimes injury, other times due to the loss of a hand, on other occasions it is purely because the composer enjoyed a cigar when playing, resulting in multi tasking. When McCarthy plays, there is a sense of amazement, at times sounding as is there are two hands on the keys. His hand is but a rapid gear never-ending in momentum. The Nocturne by the 18-year-old Scriabin sets up the foundations of the Russian composer’s experimental scope. Though inspired by Chopin, it’s busy, heaving quality is appealing, though over wrought at times. J. Mann’s arrangement of the Richard Strauss song ‘Morgen!’ has room to breath for the one hand, though might not work as well as it should in this guise. Having said this, it’s always moving and stunningly smooth. Carl Reinecke might not be a well know name, in all fairness. In his Sonata in C minor, we hear this broad and hearty demonstration. Though not as appealing as other works here, Reinecke’s role in the left hand rep is undoubtedly important. McCathy bringing oodles of passion here, resulting in a performance to reckon with.

Composer Clara Schumann in one point in her life had an injury on her right hand. So Brahms was kind enough to create for her arrangements of Bach’s music. Taken from the violin writing, the Chaconne is a pleasing encounter, not quite Bach at his most clever, but of worth. McCarthy makes mincemeat of the numerous trills and frills that exist in the score, with a sense of reverence. Fumagalli’s take on Casta Diva from Bellini’s Norma works perfectly. The vocal line in the keys floats above the bass notes and the marriage of both melds together passionately. This marvellous setting should have really ended the concert. McCarthy would conclude with his own take of Rachmaninov’s Prelude in G minor. He spoke of how he envied other pianists who could play this piece and he wanted to as well, finding a way to make it work for him. It was a brief affair, with some of the exuberant flair that the composer offers formulating in a prelude of some significance.

This proved to be an engrossing concert, though I would be much interested in more new music written just for left hand.

We have not seen Clare Hammond in Cardiff since her appearance with the Philharmonia back in June playing Guillaume Connesson’s The Shining One. Though this was a fleeting encounter, I was hungry for more time with this musician. Hammond’s repertoire is broad and brilliant and this was proved with a concert at the Cardiff University Concert Hall. An opening bill of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words and Robert Schumann’s Humoreske established her mastery of the classics. The Songs were airy and whimsical, written for the ammeter musician in mind, yet made majestic by Hammond, her eyes closed for parts of it. The Schumann is longer, more challenging in scope and execution, Hammond here brining all the vital components required to pull it off. The second part of the programme proved more harsh, with newer offerings. The Chaconne by Sofia Gubaidulina was a jolt to the system, sensational in its cyclic density. A Garland for Anne by Rhian Samuel was a merry, yet brittle piece with movements such as ‘The Therapy of Moonlight’ and ‘On going deaf’. Though the last part, ‘Four-and-a-half Dancing Men’ remained a highlight, Satie meets folk in an ironic sort of mood.

Doppelgänger by Hilary Tann found solace in counterpart uniting in the score’s harmony. It’s a little piece, but still had weight in its musical atheistic. Like McCarthy, Rachmaninov would end the bill, here the Piano Sonata No 2 in B flat minor. Hammond really sinks her teeth in this, infused with a regal persona and thunderous physicality. With the score memorised (all other pieces in the second part had the sheet music), a brief pang of doubt resulted in Hammond requiring the score, though I doubt anyone would scoff at this brief pause, as she went to find a copy. When arriving back, Professor Kenneth Hamilton was kind enough to be a swift page turner and her musicality never waned for a second. Hammond had nothing to prove after this and a showy encore of The Flight of the Bumble Bee was simply not desired.


St David’s Hall next lunchtime concert is Laura Deignan, RWCMD Prize Winner, for a solo clarinet recital on 5th November 2019.

Next concert at Cardiff University School of Music is the Aquilae Trio on 22nd October 2019, with a programme of Ravel, Arlene Sierra, Debussy, Max Mitchell, Sophia Gubaidulina, William Frampton & Saint-Saëns.


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