This week’s concert of the week sees the French pianist Bernard d’Ascoli return to Oxford (Fri 31 Jan, 8pm, Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, St Hilda’s College). Since being launched onto the international scene by winning Third Prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 1981, d’Ascoli has achieved an impressive career as a virtuoso performer. Edward Greenfield, writing in The Guardian, states that ‘on any count he is one of the major pianists of his generation’. His programme at the JdP contrasts the piano music of the Viennese salon by Schubert and Brahms, with that of the Parisian salon by Fauré and Chopin. The graceful power of Chopin is a particular specialism of this pianist who has recorded much of his music. Amongst these intricate and refined gems from urban settings sits Liszt’s Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude from his Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, a work which displays the deeply felt spirituality of the composer. Taken as a whole, the programme highlight nineteenth-century Romantic piano repertoire, in which d’Ascoli is something of a specialist, at its most lyrical and intimate. After an impressive recital at the JdP in 2012, d’Ascoli’s return to Oxford promises to be a fantastic event.
For something a little different from these familiar faces of the canonic piano repertoire, look no further than Margarita and the House of Love (Weds 29th Jan, 7:30pm, St Margaret’s Church). This project is the brainchild of the multi-talented Nicola Harrison, who wrote the script and directs, as well as singing the lead role of Margarita. The story behind this production is too good not to be true: Harrison, inspired by a trip to Seville, dedicated herself to two years of intense training in Spanish music in Jerez, Seville and Madrid, gaining legendary Spanish mezzo-soprano Teresa Berganza as a patron along the way. With years of experience writing columns for Radio 4 behind her, Harrison has written a script that promises to use ‘voice, piano, improvised percussion and strings to bring a fresh and original story to the worlds of classical and folk music alike’. The project brings together a host of familiar Oxford-based musicians such as Gerald Garcia (guitar) and Guy Newbury (pianist and tutor in music at Pembroke College). With music by Granados, Albéniz, de Falla and others, Margarita and the House of Love promises to bring a touch of sunny Spain to the cold January evenings of Oxford.