Sadly displaced from their usual venue, the St Andrew’s and St George’s West festival-within-the-festival have set themselves up in Royal Overseas House. The warren of tight corridors, kitchen noise, and the mass of grey hair made this feel like a cheap cruise. The dullness of venue perfectly complemented pianist Clare Jones’ performance style.
Despite its billing, Jones’ programme was a dreary buffet of disconnected shorts. The Beethoven was Sonata Op 14 No 1, and the Schubert was the Impromptu Op 90 No 4. These, along with Marianne Martinez’ Allegro, formed the opening section. Jones dedicated the next section to ‘singing, dancing, and having a rather nice time.’ Not another strain was heard from the titular composers: instead we got Mozart, Chopin, one of Jones’ own compositions, and Legrand. Jones may have been forgiven this oversight if the ‘rather nice time’ section had lived up to its name.
Her playing was unrefined and arbitrary. She could play the notes, which in some of her repertoire is no mean feat, but her scalic passages and arpeggios were rarely even. She tried to mask this with liberal application of the right foot but to no avail. Instead her programme, which for the most part demanded clarity, was muddied by imprecision and the sustain pedal.
Beyond these technical details I felt her performance lacked a sense of drama, or even musicality. My boredom stemmed from her paucity of dynamic variation – she played everything at a solid mezzo-forte. Emotive pauses were scant, making cadenzas seem dull and even blurring the line between one piece and the next. The earlier works were almost exclusively in sonata form, and unfortunately her recapitulation sections, rather than being triumphant returns to the original material, were tawdrily perfunctory. She just hadn’t earned a glorious homecoming after the emotionless development sections.
This was a fair bash at some tricky works, but that just isn’t good enough for someone of Jones’ calibre. There was no sense of bravado or energy – she shuffled on, played her pieces and shuffled back off again. I hadn’t noticed she’d returned for a second bow until the applause recommenced. Luckily you won’t be able to see this concert again, as it was for one night only.