Nocturnes at Wigmore Hall

written by Brian Wilson
06 6 13

I think the summer in London is great as you can attend a 1930 concert at Wigmore Hall and still get home before dark. Of course a couple of pints at the local on the way home as well makes it a great night.

I have been planning to attend a recital or two during my travels. The Kissen concerto at Carnegie Hall was sold out, and either stupidity or jet lag made me forget the date of another concert, but I finally attended a recital in London.

Wigmore Hall in Marylebone, or better known as part of London’s West End was built in 1901 by the German piano manufacturer Bechstein, and the first concert was 31st May 1901 featuring the pianist, Busoni. Since then an impressive list of musicians have performed on the stage.

The Arts and Crafts cupola over the stage was designed by Gerald Moira and executed by Frank Lynn Jenkins. It was restored during the Hall’s refurbishment in 1991-2.

The painting symbolises the striving of humanity after the elusiveness of music in its great abstraction.

The Soul of Music

The central figure is the Soul of Music. He is gazing up at the Genius of Harmony – a ball of eternal fire whose rays are reflected across the world.

A tangled network of thorns separates this portion of the picture from the four other figures –  representing the separation of man from the perfect spiritual conception of music because he is ensnared by materialism.

Left Hand-Side of the Cupola

Here a musician plays in a trance, seeking inspiration from beyond. Also there is Love, who has roses in her hand. She represents the idea that a musician’s incentive is love for their art, and their reward is beauty.

Right Hand-Side of the Cuploa

On this side is Psyche – representing the human soul – inspiring a seated composer, transcribing music on a scroll.


The background of the painting is a deep blue sky with clouds of Divine Mystery floating overhead.    (1)

Around the stage, tiles of red marble, red carpets and plush red seats. Natural light from skylights connects you to the outside world. The hall is stunning. I was wondering how the acoustics of this hall would sound. The performer, Louis Lortie, a French-Canadian pianist walked out on to the platform and started to play Chopin’s Nocturne in Ab Op. 32 No. 2

The sound struck me like no other hall. I was in the sound, and didn’t have to search for it or concentrate on where it was coming from. I was in the piano, part of it. This recital was up close and personal. The pianist displayed tones from a whisper like brushing of a string to a sound that could wake up the next street. The piano delivered in expression and graduations of soft to loud. This pianist was in command of this instrument.

The instrument it self was stunning in sound. It had a large bass section with low harmonics very obvious, thick in texture, graduating to a high treble that was clear, but at times I thought the treble was a little lacking compared to this strong bass. The performer was completely at ease as it was obvious that this was the instrument the performer chose for this performance.

For two hours, the audience was captivated by this performer’s interpretation of Chopin Nocturnes, Impromptus and the Sonata No 3 in B minor Op. 58. An encore of another Chopin piece was played and the performer showed off the capabilities of this instrument. The recital made me realise that although I the technician would have preferred an instrument with a less powerful bass, it is still about the performer as it is his vehicle for expression. The audience was moved by this performer.

This is why we listen to music.

(1) Wigmore Hall Website

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