Sunderland Pianoforte Society continued its 2011-2012 season with a brilliant set of performances given by Olivia Sham young pianist from Australia, who is at present based in London working at the Royal Academy of Music on her Doctorate.
This recital was sponsored by the “Philip and Dorothy Green Awards for Young Concert Artists” administered by “Making Music” (The National Federation of Music Societies). Since the subject of Olivia’s Doctorate is the study and performance of the work of Franz Liszt, she is a specialist in the interpretation of the music of that great Hungarian virtuoso of the nineteenth century. As a tribute to him in his bicentennial year Olivia played the
whole of his “L’ Années de Pèlerinage” ( Years of Pilgrimage – Book II – Italy). She did
this in two parts – to open and close the concert. She included in the first half of her
programme Beethoven’s lovely “Andante Favori” and (Australian) Carl Vine’s Piano
Sonata No.1. The first of his three so far (He was born in 1954).
Needless to say, the Liszt was all beautifully performed and certainly demonstrated Olivia
Sham’s astonishing and powerful technical brilliance. She gave a high stature to the Beethoven, such as made us realise why Beethoven considered it as the slow movement for
his Op.,53 “Waldstein Sonata” (Before finally rejecting it on grounds of length).
The Carl Vine Sonata (in two movements) was a fantastic piece of piano writing in
which he makes heroic demands on the pianist and creates on the keyboard an amazing
range of sounds and textures, with rhythmic complexities that were impressive simply to
hear let alone to play.
Olivia’s second half opened with No.11 of Messiaen’s “Vingt regards” and then two
Debussy Preludes before the final Liszt. All was beautifully done with finger dexterity
a special feature combined with thoughtful interpretation. She chose appropriate tempi for
all the pieces in the different styles and showed a tremendously wide dynamic range.
Olivia is a strong-willed individual with decidely “set” ideas – so much so that this could
become a stumbling block in her performing career. She seems to disapprove of applause
and certainly does not believe in “encores”. She aimed to play the whole programme as
a continuous essay in sound, interrupted only by the Interval. She generously supplied her own (Copyright) programme notes, which were again a continuous essay. Olivia does not seem to take her audience into account, except in so far as she gives them the finest performances possible. She actually said “Applause is not necessary”. I am afraid this will simply not do! Audiences must be given help in knowing exactly where they are at any one time. It is not a satisfactory approach to drift from one piece to another (by an entirely different composer) without even taking your hands off the keyboard. This is the way she joined together the Messiaen and the Debussy.
It is quite inappropriate to refuse to make pauses for applause between the works of different composers. In any case, an audience must be given the chance to show its appreciation of fine performances. This does not in any way interrupt the flow of a recital and it helps the audience to be involved in an active way. Absolutely brilliant she may be, but Olivia must learn (probably from bitter future experience) that she must take her audiences into account if she is really to reach the top in her performing career.