Royal Concert Hall Nottingham, Clef Piano, 4****: William Ruff


Julian Clef, piano

October 28 2018

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham


Review: William Ruff


Classical meets Boogie-Woogie in the hands of pianist Julian Clef

Even if there’s such a thing as an ordinary musician, Julian Clef certainly isn’t one of them – even if you discount his wonderfully musical surname. For a start he was born in Kerala, India, started playing the piano at the age of six and then had the good fortune to be spotted by Nottingham resident Linda John when she was visiting the subcontinent. She took him under her wing and since then success has followed success.

His charmingly modest manner on the concert platform was misleading. He seemed happy to chat about the pieces in his Sunday morning RCH recital, but there was no doubt that he was happier when seated at the keyboard and at his happiest when the music was most dazzlingly difficult.

He started with Two Rhapsodies Op. 79 by Brahms, emphasising their lyrical rather than their more extrovert qualities. Yes, there was passion, but the emotion was contained rather than worn on the sleeve.

In Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata his approach was intimate rather than showy. Never sentimental, he captured the over-arching mood of each movement, delicate in the searching slow movement whilst bringing impressive textural clarity and unfettered exuberance to the joyful finale.

But it was the final piece on the programme which made the biggest impression: the rarely performed Concert Studies by Ukrainian composer Nicolai Kapustin in which classical collides with jazz and much else. The Raillery etude comes from the world of boogie-woogie whilst Pastoral evoked an Appalachian banjo line before morphing into tunes from a Broadway blockbuster. Intermezzo sounded like something Art Tatum might have dashed off. Julian Clef was in his element, becoming the virtuoso showman which earlier had seemed so unlikely. And his encore (Stephen Hough’s version of My Favourite Things) had his highly enthusiastic audience cheering.

Julian Clef (piano) in Nottingham’s Sunday Morning Piano Series at the Royal Concert Hall


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