Review by Alexander Rider published in UKHA Magazine

Mélissa Kenny in Recital, St. Martin-in-the-Fields

Mélissa Kenny is currently studying for her masters degree under Gabriella Dall’Olio at Trinity Laban where she is supported by both the Leverhulme and Countess of Munster Trusts. As winner of that college’s John Marson prize, Mélissa presented a fantastically varied programme of works as part of St. Martin-in-the-Fields’s popular Trinity College of Music series. She opened her concert with Grandjany’s Rhapsodie. As Grandjany’s student Catherine Gotthoffer once mused, this can be something of a “war horse”, but there was such finesse here , such control of the phrases that the work’s obvious virtuosity was prevented from overwhelming. As the programme notes pointed out, this work demonstrates the composer’s conviction of the harp’s ability to emulate the orchestra, and Mélissa filled this great space with both a quality and quantity of tone. It was gratifying to note that a work by John Marson (1932-2007) was included, as the prize given in his memory enabled Mélissa to give this performance: and El Picaflor wove its usual gossamer magic.

Caplet’s Conte Fantastique,for harp and string quartet is one of the most difficult and complex works in the literature, and therefore is a bold choice for any programme. Based on Poe’s short story, The Masque of the Red Death, Caplet uses the harp to absolutely thrilling effect, from the frills of the waltz, to the portetntous tolling of the diabolical clock, Kenny handled the virtuoso and colouristic demands of the score with true panache. She was ably assisted by the Billroth quartet: commitment and an infectious sense of relish in the ghoulish subject matter made this a thrilling performance. If I were to make one critical comment, it would be to say that in an acoustic as cavernous as St. Martin-in-the-Fields, one must make sure that the excitement of the ensemble is, in a sense, controlled so as not to risk clarity in some of the more hectic moments. A “mystery” masked narrator to read this chilling horror story before the performance was also a fantastic touch!

Bach’s Partita No.1 BWV 825 was my personal highlight, as a performance it was distinguished by its irreproachable clarity, attention to detail and a deeply personal sense of expression: in the Sarabande this harpist’s phrasing was pure poetry. In short, Mélissa Kenny treated her audience to a recital of rare poise and professionalism, with a breathtaking range of tone and an extremely high level of technical finish: her focus left the audience wanting much more.