Music by Chopin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov & Liszt
Photo: Benjamin Ealovega
Variations on a Theme of Corelli
Sonata in B minor
It is four years since this very shy and somewhat remote young woman astounded us with her piano playing, and consequently the return visit by Grace Francis on 20 November was eagerly anticipated.
After a copious draught of water, she launched into the first Scherzo of Chopin and we realised immediately that we had not over enthused about her incredible ability. Still shy and retiring, this lady when seated at the piano, becomes completely transformed as if being taken over by forces beyond herself and produces musicality and technical control as good as the best in the land.
Suffice it to say, her whole programme was masterly from start to finish, whether playing the tempestuous five Op. 17 "Sarcasmes" of Prokofiev, or the Rachmaninov long and virtuosic Corelli Variations before the interval, or the Liszt Consolation No 3 and the same composer's magnificent but fearsomely difficult B minor Sonata afterwards. As regards the latter, who but the most gifted would have retained enough dynamism after an already very demanding programme, to provide this "war horse" with sufficient conviction for it to provide a suitable conclusion to such a memorable recital!?
When music is performed to this standard, regardless of the instrument, it takes flight from the written page and becomes a living organism capable of lifting our emotions to a completely different level of understanding. Judging by the applause, it was apparent that many of the audience, all of whom had braved a decidedly wet afternoon, had perhaps had such an experience brought about by what could best be described as a divinely inspired young woman who had shared her gifts with us.
Grace Francis was born in London and attended the Yehudi Menuhin School before studying with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music. There she won the Chappell Gold Medal, the highest award for a pianist. She continued her studies with a Wingate Scholarship, also receiving the Hattori Foundation Award and winning in international competition the Negrada Piano House Award at Zagreb.
Grace has given many concerts in the UK: Barbican; Reform Club, Pall Mall; Purcell Room; Wigmore Hall (for the Kirckman Society); St John’s, Smith Square; Rosehill Theatre, Cumbria; Warwick University; the City Music Society (where she performed Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’).
Broadcasts include Liszt’s ‘Hungarian Rhapsody’ with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and a BBC Radio 3 programme of works by Chopin, John Field and Viteslav Novak. Grace’s repertoire is wide-ranging: from Haydn to Chopin, Brahms, Liszt and Bartok.
Leading performers such as Mitsuko Uchida and Stephen Hough have praised Grace’s outstanding talent and the leading critic, David Cairns, revealed her to the world in the Sunday Times as a ‘phenomenon… of uncommon fire and energy.’
Grace’s new CD, Brahms & Liszt, released by Quartz, features Brahms’ Variations on a theme of Paganini, Book II, Brahms Sonata No I, Liszt Funerailles, Ave Maria, Sonetto del Petrarca 104 and Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli. This recording is now available at HMV and online through Discovery Records, HMV.com and Amazon.co.uk.
- Chapell Gold Medal, Royal College of Music 1992
- Hattori Foundation Award 1996
- Wingate Foundation Scholarship 1997 – 1998
- Zagrev Nagarada Heserer Pianohouse Award