REVIEW: Simon Callaghan at the University of Chichester

Simon Callaghan
Simon Callaghan

The Funtington Music Group’s opening lecture recital of 2018 was a tour de force presented by Simon Callaghan, the internationally acclaimed pianist.

His presentation was on the life and music of little known Sir William Sterndale Bennett, an English composer who was born in 1816, whose compositions are unfortunately rarely played, yet are often challenging, and require a virtuoso performance by the musician.

Although largely forgotten today, Simon Callaghan explained that William Bennett was recognised by Schumann and Mendelssohn as an equal, was as well-known in Germany as he was in England, and at the age of 16 was playing before the King. His early works are recognised as being excellent, and he developed his own style, which is believed to have influenced both Schumann and Mendelssohn, whom he knew well.

Unfortunately Bennett did not develop from his early promise, and, although he continued to compose, his later works are not considered to be in the same class as his early pieces. But he remained at the top of England’s musical elite, with his work at the Royal Academy of Music, ending as Principal in 1865, and Chair of Music at Cambridge University.

Simon Callaghan played recorded extracts from his works to illustrate Bennett’s compositional style and after the interval Simon played in full Bennett’s very demanding Sonata in F Minor Opus 13.

Bennett himself was an amazing pianist, according to all contemporary accounts, and this piece demands incredible concentration, energetic determination, and immaculate virtuosity. Simon Callaghan did not disappoint. This Sonata can sound like a torrent of unrelated chords, but Simon Callaghan infused into this turbulence a grip on the structure that resulted in an exhilarating rendition. He brought rhythmic drive and impetus into his own distinctive interpretation and certainly he demonstrated his own virtuosity with a powerful performance. The audience gave rapturous applause.

David Tinsley, Chairman of Funtington Music Group, said, “What an incredible performer! Simon Callaghan brought to life a piece which most of us will not have heard before, with his own distinctive passion, and with a memorable energy and skill. We are so pleased that he has returned to the Funtington Music Group.”

Further details of the Funtington Music Group can be obtained from the Membership Secretary, Mrs Elizabeth Brooks, on 01 243 378900.