FOLLOWING an excursion into the world of early music for the last concert, Kendal Midday Concert Club returned to more mainstream repertoire for a piano recital of music by Schubert and Chopin given by the young British pianist Ashley Fripp, writes CLIVE WALKLEY.

Although in the early stages of his career, Ashley has accumulated an impressive list of prizes and has given recitals in many prestigious venues, including Carnegie Hall (USA) and in this country, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican and Wigmore Hall; broadcasts in many European countries and recordings add to his list of achievements.

Listening to his recital in Kendal, it is not hard to see why he has achieved so much in just a few years. He is a remarkably controlled pianist avoiding all unnecessary gestures; he possesses an immaculate technique, producing a powerful sound from the piano when required and a wonderful pianissimo tone in quiet passages, and he can make the piano sing. Moreover, he has a charming stage presence: his spoken introductions were clear and informative, adding useful additions to the already excellent programme notes to prepare his audience for what was to follow.

He opened his programme with Schubert’s Four Impromptus, published as opus 90 the year before the composer’s death in 1828. Each of the four short works has its own character. The first one is the most dramatic of the set and remarkable for the sudden magical shifts in tonality which are so characteristic of Schubert’s piano writing. The work demands subtle use of the sustaining pedal and Ashley’s control was an object lesson for all amateur pianists in the audience.

The second Impromptu demands delicate finger dexterity, again fully demonstrated. In the sublime third Impromptu Schubert expects a performer to sustain a cantabile melody in the right hand and at the same time accompany this melodic line with a rippling accompaniment under it. Here was another lesson for anyone wishing to master this beautiful piece. Finally, in the fourth Impromptu, arpeggios cascaded down the piano with apparent ease.

Chopin’s third piano sonata was the companion piece to the shorter Schubert works. The technical demands of this work are immense but Ashley brought out all the musical characteristics that we find in Chopin’s large scale works: singing melodies, colourful, harmonies, constantly changing mood swings and technical virtuosity. The emotional heart of the Sonata is the slow movement with it dreamlike qualities and the silence in the hall was palpable as Ashley tenderly unfolded this lovely movement before launching into the final tempestuous presto, a truly remarkable performance.