Schumann and Liszt in St. Mary’s Perivale of London

67

by Dr. Kyriakos Loukakos, Hon. President of the Greek Drama and Music Critics Union (est. 1928)

St. Mary’s Perivale church, London

Music making can often prove unpredictable, honesty of intentions sometimes overwhelming big name promises or luxury production values. And indeed this unpredictability is that makes performance visits so interesting and sometimes rewarding, even elevating. And of course the touch of interesting times can prove illuminating in many and strange ways. Our recent visit to London, aiming primarily to a Royal Opera House Fidelio revival commented elsewhere, provided parallel occasions of interest, comparably noteworthy,.
On March 10 {[2020], amid the ever more widespread fear for the coronavirus, we found ourselves gathering courageously among quite a few, mostly ageing, music lovers in what must be one of numerous discreet performing spaces of London. St. Mary’s Perivale, beautifully situated in a green area of West London, is a modestly sized 12th century church, dating from 1135 a.D, bordering to a picturesque cemetery, worthy enough to host the late John Boosey (1831-1895) of the internationally prestigious Boosey & Hawkes music publishing house (according to Mike Patterson, My Open House. St Mary’s Perivale, 2012, in londonhistorians.wordpress.com, it was his widow who sponsored the pretty lych gate one encounters just before reaching the church). This same source (https://londonhistorians.wordpress.com/2012/09/24/my-open-house-st-marys-perivale/) informs that, although it remains consecrated, St. Mary’s Perivale has not held services since the early 1970s, yet it has long been hosting classical music concerts. Further mention is provided regarding «The Friends of St Mary’s» having been «set up and given a 99 year lease by the Church Commissioners to repair the building and look after it» as well as to the fact that «the organisation is still going strong, holding frequent classical music concerts in the venerable old church».

Stavenhagen-Liszt,_1885

Indeed, thanks to the long standing, indefatigable advocacy of Dr. Hugh Mather and his wife Felicity, this charming yet improbable venue boasts already almost a thousand concerts by more and less prominent but always carefully selected artists. After a repeated cordial handshake, politically unacceptable in pandemic times but warm hearted and unequivocally affirmative to social and cultural communication, dr. Mather, a physician by profession, stressed his intention to continue this admirable venture, if needed limited to hosting concerts via live streaming, used already as a means of enhancing their appeal to a wider and / or incapacitated public.
The one hour, demanding program of the 2’ o clock p.m. concert we attended included the Fantasy in C op. 17 by Robert Schumann and the «Deux légendes» S. 175 by Franz Liszt in masterful readings by the rising pianist Mark Viner, a master in such repertoire, as manifested in more than half a dozen critically acclaimed cds for Piano Classics, each one provided with extensive and erudite accompanying notes by the artist himself. The nice acoustics of this moderately resonant venue exposed sufficiently Viner’s strong and clearly articulated pianism and stressed his admirable intellectual grasp of this music, qualities that ensured to him a dual capacity as the chairman of both the British Alkan and Liszt societies.
Besides the welcome intimacy of such high quality music making in this delectable venue, blessed with a shared feeling of impending universal threat, our experience was further enhanced by our encounter with former chairman of the British Liszt Society, Ms. Elkin Strub-Ronayne, who also graced the concert with her presence. A fine pianist herself, Mme Strub-Ronayne is directly linked to the Liszt piano tradition. Her father was the distinguished violinist Max Strub (1900-1966), for 36 years the head of the Strub String quartet, but she is also a great-grand daughter of famous pianist Bernhard Stavenhagen (1862 – 1914), who studied with Liszt from 1885 to the composer’s death. After the concert, in the intimate atmosphere of a nearby pub, Mme Strub-Ronayne shared extensively her reminiscences with us, bringing to the fore also original photos of herself and/or her illustrious ancestors in the company of such figures as composers Franz Liszt and Hans Pfitzner, violinist David Oistrakh and pianists Walter Gieseking, Elly Ney and Edwin Fischer. It was a referential aftermath to a special event, presenting us with a vivid testimony about facts and persons that belong to an important but already remote chapter in history of great music. Among invaluable documents we fondly retain a common photo of hers and maestro Fischer, bearing on its backside his lengthy dedication, partly in English and partly in German, including his authoritative approval of her pianism of younger days. A tremendous all round experience, worthy the corona risk!