It had been raining all week. It was still raining miserably when the first Breinton recital of the year 2014 was about to start. I feared people would be delayed due to the weather – on the contrary, everyone arrived right on time, seated themselves promptly and waited eagerly for the recital to begin.
The concert of the novel "Alicia's Gift", performed by acclaimed author and music critique Jessica Duchen and prize-winning pianist Viv McLean, was a pioneering event for Breinton. We had never put on an event of this kind, a uniquely formatted concert combining the spoken word and piano, and, to be honest, it is one of those kind of events where it is impossible to imagine what it will be like until you actually see it, hear it and experience it. I could see many members were unsure what was going to unfold in front of their eyes while waiting patiently and curiously for the concert to start. However the evening turned out to be an experience of huge pleasure and one that worked marvellously in the room at Breinton.
As we witnessed, the story explored the child prodigy Alicia's musical growth in parallel with the struggles and disintegration of her family; the story being told with alternating extracts from the book and well-chosen illustrative piano pieces. Jessica's clear narration was pleasant to our ears. She depicted every character in the story very well; conversations flowed lively, people's emotions were expressed wholeheartedly, and her descriptions of the outdoor sceneries were vivid.
The first piece introduced was Chopin's Etude in A flat major, Op. 25 No. 1. I felt very privileged as this is my absolute favourite out of all Chopin's etudes, performed this evening with subtleness yet with an emphasis on its beautiful melody.
Alicia's emotional, whirlwind state of mind was reflected well in the stormy Etude in C minor, Op. 25 No. 12. The nocturnal Granados "Quejas o La Maya y el Ruisenor" expressed indications of inner voices. And the use of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in between the atmospheric Messiaen and Ravel was quite sensational!
All these hand-picked short pieces were effortlessly performed. There was even a demonstration of the mighty "Russian Scales". Viv was on glorious form!
Jessica's narration and Viv's piano indeed collaborated hand in hand, contributing to another very successful evening at Breinton. It was a fresh start for the year, offering us an entirely different experience from our more traditional concerts . There was no stagnant moment; every minute was filled with excitement and everyone in the audience held their breath, wanting to know what would happen next; just like the original book "Alicia's Gift", which is a real page turner.
Friendly Viv and Jessica stayed on to mingle with our members after the concert – always a bonus for us to speak to and hear from the performers!
Finally, I would like to congratulate Yvonne Evans, the director of the programme. She is the most dedicated and passionate person I know.
Jessica Duchen's narration, based on Alicia's Gift, will be accompanied by Viv McLean, including the following pieces:
- Chopin: Etude in A flat major, Op. 25 No. 1
- Manuel de Falla: Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo
- Chopin: Ballade No. 3 in A flat major
- Debussy: Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes
- Chopin: The Minute Waltz in D flat major, Op. 64 No. 1
- Chopin: Etude in C minor, Op. 25 No. 12
- Granados: Quejas, o la Maja y el ruisenor from Goyescas
- Messiaen: Prelude, La colombe
- Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue
- Ravel: Sonatine, Ill Anime
- Ravel: Le Jardin Feerique from Ma mere L'oye
Jessica Duchen was born in London, where her parents settled after leaving South Africa in the 1950s. She regrets that she can't remember her encounter with JR Tolkein in Oxford at the age of six, which has become a family legend. She first tried to write a novel at the age of 12. Her efforts soon found their way into the hands of a distinguished author and a literary agent, who both
Read more: Jessica Duchen, narrator
Winner of the First Prize at the 2002 Maria Canals International Piano Competition in Barcelona, Viv McLean has performed at all the major halls in the UK, as well as in France, Spain, Germany, Scandinavia, Israel, Japan, Australia and the USA.
Viv McLean's concerto work in the UK includes appearances with the Philharmonia Orchestra, London Phil-