Jonathan Radford saxophone and Ashley Fripp piano Review

An appreciative audience at Keswick’s Theatre by the Lake was treated to a lovely concert last Sunday by the brilliant young saxophone player Jonathan Radford and his gifted accompanist Ashley Fripp on the piano, a combination of instruments that doesn’t readily come to mind in the classical sphere, but we needn’t have worried.
From the first notes of Debussy’s enchanting “L’Apres Midi d’un Faune” we knew we were in for something special as the haunting timbres of the solo saxophone evoked the faune’s awakening in the shifting sunlight of a leafy glade. The tone Jonathan conjures from his instrument is so mellow that if you shut your eyes you could be forgiven for thinking you were listening to a flute, or to a melody on a single church organ pipe. The sensitive interweaving with Ashley’s piano, both delicate and energetic, provided a quite magical start to the concert.

Slightly less successful for me was the second work, a transcription of Schumann’s “first sonata for piano and violin”. Not because the playing wasn’t good … it was very good indeed and was perfectly complemented by Ashley’s command of the romantic piano style. But it is not a very memorable or characteristic work. Indeed, Schumann himself wasn’t overly happy with it, and promptly wrote a second violin sonata within a month.

The final work of the first half however was a great success, Bernstein’s “West Side Story suite”. This provided the players with plenty of opportunities to showcase their technical talents and demonstrate their command of a very different genre in bringing to life Bernstein’s classic dance numbers.

The second half started with the “Fuzzy Bird sonata” by the Japanese composer Yoshimatsu. This was new music for almost the entire audience. It might be a challenge to play, but not to listen to when in the hands of these musicians. Jonathan coaxed an amazing variety of sounds and tones from his saxophone, all within a most musical delivery of complex rhythmic interplays with the piano … Ashley here again demonstrating what a fine pianist he is in his own right, as well as being an exceptional accompanist.

The concert concluded with Piazzola’s “L’histoire du Tango” and then Three Preludes by Gershwin, both very beautifully played. The audience hadn’t had enough so these were followed by an encore of a miniature by Faure, perfectly mirroring the opening work of the concert and sending us home knowing we’d heard quite some exceptional music-making from two very gifted young musicians. What an excellent concert to start the new year … skillful, musical, expressive playing and such a lovely, varied programme. We look forward to future concerts brought to you by Keswick Music Society.