Review of Warren Mailley-Smith’s Valentine Concert (Piano) in Ely Cathedral on 11th February 2012.

In spite of the freezing weather outside, Warren Mailley-Smith’s Valentine Concert mesmerized the audience with much warmth, vigour and excitement. Warm lyrical melodies, brilliant showmanship and treasured moments of heart- stopping reflection pervaded the excellent programme he chose to mark this romantic period of the year.

There is no doubt that Warren is one of the finest pianists in the country and his unique technique, astute musical awareness and phenomenal expressive touch combined to provide a wonderful night’s entertainment.

The programme included a host of romantic favourites including composers Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt, Grief, Prokofiev, Horowitz, Chopin and Gershwin.

The crashing chords of the opening movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata contrasted expertly the suddenly soft responses. In the first and last movements, rapid scales and flowing arpeggios were fused into expressive, meaningful phrases that integrated perfectly into Beethoven’s unique sense of the dramatic. In Warren’s hands, the simplicity and charm of the second movement was enhanced with his impressive ability to bring out the varied moods and characters of the harmonic changes while the leading familiar melody never lost any of its strength and appeal.

Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ was played with such skilled fluency that one could easily imagine the moonlight’s reflective play. Rippling runs and sweeping open chords contrasted well with the subtle quiet moments that caught the breath as though suspended for one precious moment in time immemorial.

Warren is a born virtuoso. His technical superiority and his innate empathy with the nature of the virtuosic pianists of previous times made the works by Liszt, Chopin and Gershwin ideal for him and for the audience. Liszt’s ‘Un Sospiro’ (‘The Sigh’) exuded romanticism with its strong, lyrical themes. His Hungarian Rhapsody No 2 was gorgeously gutsy with whirling gymnastics and cheeky interpolations.

After interval Grieg’s ‘Wedding Day at Troldhaugen’ provided moments of joyful respite and tenderness. Then we were taken into the dark world of Russian intensity with a powerful driving bass and moments of soft sudden lightness infused with a sense of foreboding.

A foray into the world of opera followed with Liszt’s ‘Rigoletto Paraphrase’ and Bizet-Horowitzs’ ‘Carmen Fantasy’.  In these the voices and characters of the participants were clearly defined by Warren’s phenomenal three dimensional effects.

One of the most effective performances of the evening was undoubtedly ‘Fantasy Imrpompty Op 66’ by Chopin. Warren met the challenging technical demands with ease while at the same time he brought out every romantic nuance with meaningful pauses and gentleness in the strong heart-tugging themes.

Chopin’s ‘Polonaise in A flat Op 53’ was manfully entertaining and as the strong chords filled the cathedral vaults we were reminded that we were made aware of a pianist and composer of considerable stature.

The evening ended appropriately with the amazing ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by Gershwin. Warren played an arrangement specifically for piano by Gershwin. Warren was at ease with the complicated syncopated rhythms, the virtuosic interplay and the playful episodes that were soon engulfed in what Warren and Gershwin possessed – a phenomenal sense of joyful abandonment and the thrill of captivating an audience with a display of unbridled showmanship worthy of the highest praise.

Rosemary Westwell  

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