St John’s Smith Square 2016/17: Christina McMaster plays Debussy, Stravinsky, Ligeti and Scarlatti

Sunday afternoon concerts need to be made more of a thing – I don’t enough people know how special they can be. Sunday evenings are reserved for making preparations for the week ahead; Sunday mornings are for lying in. Sunday afternoons need to be combatted with something playful and entertaining.

Christina McMaster’s first outing as one of St John’s Smith Square’s Young Artists achieved both of those things. Her introductions to the carefully curated works made the whole affair informative too. She has two other engagements at SJSS during the season; be sure to get along.

The programme opened with a performance of Debussy’s 12 Preludes from Book One. These are an absorbing listen. Meditative in places, painfully intimate in others, Christina’s interpretations set amongst the dramatic interior of St John’s Smith Square effortlessly transported her audience to somewhere distant and restorative.

The second half of the recital was enlightening. First, a performance of Stravinsky’s Five easy pieces for piano duet (clearly written for piano teacher and pupil) saw Christina take the stage with three adept young musicians in what was an unexpectedly uplifting excursion.

In a similar vein, Satie’s efficient and entertaining Sports et Divertissements proved hugely rewarding, in part down to the actor and soprano Sarah Gabriel’s often sardonic rendition of the text.

Most striking was McMaster’s arresting programming. Christina clearly feels most comfortable grouping individual works around keys and textures, making for arresting introductions and blissfully rewarding musical contrasts.

Combine bold programming skills with her natural warmth introducing works and you’ve got a winning way to introduce an eclectic selection of repertoire. There’s a podcast in that, I’m sure of it.

Listen to a podcast interview with Christina McMaster, St John’s Smith Square Director Richard Heason and conductor Stephen Layton recorded earlier in 2016. 


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