Reviews

Recital for South Holland Concerts, Michael Callaghan, Spalding Guardian
South Holland Concerts provided an appreciative audience on Saturday with a memorable piano recital by John Paul Ekins. This was a London quality performance; how disappointing for the absentee patrons to have missed this once-in-a-lifetime concert. From the forward thinking and adventurous Mozart Fantasy, the delightfully sensitive Schubert Impromptu, the homage to Britten’s transcendental Holiday Diary, the masterful but moving, Liszt Cantique d’amour, through the brooding Brahms Intermezzi, to the monumental Beethoven Waldstein sonata. What a gamut of emotions moved the audience, which consisted of a range of ages.

Musicianship of this quality is rarely heard in Spalding and it was embellished by a highly professional introduction to each item by the likeable and fluent artist. The only criticism was that he could not play for another hour or two, or three… this audience would not have been sated.

Recital for Brilliant Young Pianists Series, Christopher Rogers, Marlborough News Online
The Brilliant Young Pianists series of recitals at St Peter’s Church welcomed the return of John Paul Ekins on Sunday (January 18) and this time he was playing to support the Marlborough branch of ‘Save the Children’. It was his third visit to Marlborough.

John Paul graduated from the Royal College of Music in 2009 and studied with Charles Owen (another loyal friend of Marlborough charitable causes) and was awarded his Master of Performance in 2011. He made his concerto debut at the Royal Albert Hall in 2013 and has now played in most of the great concert venues in the British Isles and throughout Europe.

His importance as an upcoming pianist was recognised when he was invited to a reception given by the Queen for Young Performers at Buckingham Palace. In addition to his extensive concert rounds he gives workshops and teaches piano at St. Paul’s School in London.

The first half of his recital was a series of short and well-known masterpieces. First came Mozart’s Fantasy in C Minor, a strangely chromatic work, full of emotional contrast, looking forward to the Romanticism of the forthcoming century. This was followed by a Schubert Impromptu (in Ab) – a wistful and lyrical work from the final years of Schubert’s short life.

Brahms’ Intermezzo in Eb is perhaps his best-loved piano piece. This too was played with great sensitivity, every note and cadence lovingly developed and expressed, creating an intimacy which was shared with the audience.

We then heard Liszt’s Cantique d’Amour. By 1852 Liszt had pushed out the boundaries of piano technique and this lovely piece is technically very demanding, full of unusual harmonies and luscious crescendi. Finally John Paul played a very different piece, Humoresque by Rodion Schedin, a Russian composer who was born in 1932. The piece is replete with cheerful brashness and unusual harmonies. Played with a delicacy and technical confidence this highlighted another area of John Paul’s many skills.

Before the recital…(photo by Christopher Rogers)Before the recital…(photo by Christopher Rogers)The second half of the recital was entirely devoted to a performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – one of the greatest and most demanding of Russian piano works. The piece consists of a musical depiction of ten paintings exhibited by Viktor Hartmann.

Mussorgksy created a first rate and imaginative masterpiece out of some second rate pictures! There is recurring confident promenade theme, representing the composer walking from one picture to the next after which John Paul produced a vivid portrayal the very diverse pictures, each of which was lovingly and individually crafted.

There was the wistful troubadour singing by the walls of an Italian castle, a calm scene contrasting with the busy and chattering children in the Tuileries Garden. Among the other pictures is the lumbering Polish ox cart, played with such imaginative dynamics that we heard the cart pass right by us before lumbering into the distance. The scampering of the ballet of Un-hatched Chicks in their Shells (not a propitious subject for a composer!) is followed by the portrayal of two Polish Jews, one full of boast and gravity, the other simpering and whining.

The finale begins with the nightmarish witch Baba Yaga in search of her prey, played with angry malevolence – a dizzying flurry of fingers and hands. This leads directly into the last picture: the gorgeous depiction of a proposed Great Kate at Kiev – ‘the cradle of Mother Russia’. Cascades of joyous peals of bells race down the piano and suddenly contrast sharply with the distant haunting chanting of a distant choir, all subsumed into rich cacophony of a great celebratory hymn, based on that original promenade theme.

What playing! Here was technical virtuosity and musical colour illustrating the diversity of mood which these unusual pictures inspired. This brought to a dramatic conclusion a superb recital that was rich in diversity, enabling us to glimpse the variety of interpretative skills which John Paul possesses. We hope to hear him in Marlborough again very soon.

Recital for Beethoven piano Society of Europe, Regent Hall, Malcolm Miller

A stunning lunchtime recital by John Paul Ekins regaled a select audience, as part of the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe Summer festival at London’s Regent Hall: the climax was a fiery performance of the famous Warsaw Concerto, composed for the 1941 WWII film Dangerous Moonlight, its shimmering full blooded 20th-century-fox romanticism conveyed in the pianist’s own ingenious adaptation. From the exciting opening tutti translated to shimmery octaves at the peak of the register, to the broader lyrical ‘big tune’, the idiom was clearly redolent of Rachmaninov, who, according to Ekins’ introductory remarks, had been the intended composer of the original film score about a cellist and composer. When Rachmaninov refused, British composer Richard Addinsell took up the challenge, bringing the Russian composer’s style into sharp focus with welling climaxes, soupy chromatic melodies and luscious harmonies.

It formed a terrific climax to a dramatic programme, also featuring Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata Op.13 and Liszt’s Ballade No.2. Ekins’ reading of Op.13 emphasized vigour and tension over dynamic nuance; harmonic shifts and motivic details effectively were well underlined, with the rich second subject projected with more than usual clarity with eloquent tonal balance. The slow movement radiated delicate simplicity with no slackening of tension, whilst in the flowing finale Ekins’s sonority blossomed into a sweetly beguiling cantabile that elevated the listener above the earlier turbulence. The tour de force was yet to come in the form of Liszt’s Ballade, in which one could follow the link from Beethoven to Liszt in the genre of descriptive music, adapting form to content and achieving a convincing resolution in the shift from triumphalism to a more poetic and poignant mood in the final bars. In his engaging introduction to the piece, Ekins related the mythological narrative of Hero and Leander that inspired the work highlighting how the composer added his own conclusion in a Tristanesque heavenly love-death consummation, then illustrated the thematic metamorphosis from B minor to major in the conclusion, a helpful guide to the complex design. With plenty of virtuosity in the cascading passagework, Ekins displayed impressive effortless pianism, allowing Liszt’s distinctive harmonic idiom to shine through.

After the fiery and swirling impulse of the Warsaw Concerto Ekins remained ‘in Polish mode’ for an enthralling encore, Chopin’s A minor Mazurka, which relaxed the temperature. Clearly John Paul Ekins is a talent to watch: we wish him many congratulations and hope for a return visit soon to our BPSE series.

Recital for Redbridge Music Society, Wanstead & Woodford Guardian

A music society has said a young pianist is ‘one to watch’ after his ‘enthralling performance’ to its members this week. Redbridge Music Society invited classical pianist John Paul Ekins to play at Wanstead Library in Spratt Hall Road on Tuesday evening as part of its scheme aimed at promoting young talent throughout the area.

Mr Ekins was described as “exceptionally talented – both musically and technically” by the music society’s membership secretary, David Bird, who said the venue was packed out for the recital. He said: “The feedback received after John Paul’s performance was some of the most positive the society has ever received. His is a name to definitely watch out for in the future!”

Mr Ekins has played in many prestigious locations, including the Royal Albert and Wigmore Hall.

Mozart Concert K491 with Woking Symphony Orchestra, Woking News and Mail

John Paul Ekins played this complex and demanding work impeccably and with enormous style, endowing the piano part with a depth of mature expression that made it a very satisfying performance. The orchestra were clearly caught up in the Mozartian mood and played with the sensitivity required to support such a soloist.

Recital for Darlington Piano Society, Peter Bevan, Darlington & Stockton Times
There was a particularly good attendance at Darlington Piano Society’s latest recital for the second visit here by John Paul Ekins who again showed that as well as being a persuasive pianist he is a good communicator with his brief introductions to each piece a help to one’s appreciation and enjoyment.

Richard Addinsell’s The Warsaw Concerto, written for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, began with a suitably bravura approach to this heavily romantic work.
His eloquent introduction to Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 prepared one for the marked contrasts between the gentle opening theme and its brutal successor.

Liszt’s Ballade No. 2, inspired by the legend of Hero and Leander, is full of musical representations of its dramatic scenes but entirely valid just as a musical piece with some memorable themes and a carefully balanced structure.
The final turmoil was extremely dramatic and exciting, dashed off with considerable skill and clarity by Ekins before the exquisite ending which held the audience silently in a long pause.

Schubert’s final Sonata No. 21, D960 had been especially prepared by the soloist for this recital.
Beginning rather cautiously and deliberately, the combination of calmness and tension seems to reflect Schubert’s awareness of his fatal illness.
Ekins demonstrated a wonderful ability to cope with the quickly changing moods and tempos, contrasting the loud and soft passages very effectively in a most impressive performance.

Recital for Rotary Club of Canterbury, Dr. Stuart Field, Canterbury Rotary Club Website
This most enjoyable piano recital by the outstanding 27-year-old international pianist John Paul Ekins was the result of the highly successful collaboration between the Rotary Club of Canterbury and Canterbury Christchurch University.

Not only did we hear some brilliantly performed music, but those in the packed hall were given a mini analysis of each piece of music prior to its playing, which greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the evening’s programme.

The recital commenced with the flawless playing of Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, described by the performer as one of the most progressive works of its time due to its continuing dramatic mood changes. Benjamin Britten’s huge work ‘Holiday Diary’, a technically and emotionally challenging work, was then dispatched with great aplomb, with its double glissandi being a particular highlight.

The masterly performance of the massive Sonata in C Major, composed for Count Waldstein by Beethoven, completed the formal programme. However we were entertained by a Chopin Mazurka as an encore.

This young performer not only gave us an evening of technically almost perfect, varied and well-chosen recital pieces, but was able to communicate with his audience both emotionally and verbally in a way which is rarely seen.

Darlington Piano Society, Janet Evans, Darlington & Stockton Times
On 2nd February I had the pleasure of attending the Society’s third recital of the season at Central Hall, given by John Paul Ekins, who studied at the Royal College of Music and then with Charles Owen at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.  His programme ranged from Mozart to Britten and it was clear even from his captivating introduction that John Paul was passionate about the works in this programme, from the spell-binding Mozart Adagio through to the riveting coda of the Beethoven “Waldstein” sonata.

The Mozart Adagio in C Minor, K. 475, is not the most accessible piece with which to begin a programme; it requires the listener’s full concentration, but John Paul had the audience hanging on his every note, so skillfully did he steer us through this work, caressing every phrase yet projecting his own vision of the whole. The performance of Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat, Op. 90, displayed a fine technique, combining rippling arpeggios with melodies of true poetry. The middle section, played with fervour, displayed his mastery of rubato, leading beautifully back into the first section. The first half closed with Benjamin Britten’s “Holiday Diary” – an imaginative work depicting aspects of a holiday by the sea which John Paul interpreted with enthusiasm and empathy with the style.

There was a feeling in Brahms’ 3 Intermezzi, Op. 117, of John Paul having already entered inside Brahms’ mindset to draw us into this intimate world, rather than his projecting the music out to us. Whilst all three pieces were portrayed as sombre in mood, each had a character of its own, displaying a sensitivity of touch that allowed complete tonal control. His performance of the Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, had the audience on the edge of their seats for its entirety, from the opening pulsating chords through the serene “Adagio molto”  and on to the fiery coda of the final movement, revealing new depths by drawing out elements hitherto unheard in this work – an exceptional achievement and tour de force.

As John Paul himself said, what could you possibly play after the Waldstein? But for his encore he chose a Chopin Mazurka, full of poise and charm, and in his hands the perfect ending to a wonderful recital.

Recital for Sunderland Piano Society, Lily Scott, Sunderland Echo
Sunderland Piano Society continued its 71st season with a recital given by the brilliant young  pianist John Paul Ekins, who delighted a large audience with his beautiful playing. John Paul managed to fit the recital in at the end of his North East tour and, despite a heavy schedule, he succeeded in impressing the audience with his virtuosic technique and friendly introductions to the programme.

The recital opened with a performance of the Fantasy in C, K.475 by Mozart, followed by Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat, Op. 90. Britten’s Holiday Diary, a suite for piano that is not often played but which was well received by the audience, completed the first part of the recital. The second half began with a powerful performance of Liszt’s rarely played Cantique d’Amour.  However, the best was yet to come with a beautiful performance of Brahms’s Three Intermezzi, Op.117, in which the pianist  produced the most amazing sounds and colours from the instrument so prized by the society. The evening ended with the Beethoven’s Sonata No.21, the Waldstein, and again we were impressed with the use of the piano and gradation. Beethoven’s subtle pedal marks were used to great advantage but most impressive were the fresh sounds which came from such a familiar piece played with such authority and a strong technique.

As well as being in great demand as a solo pianist, John Paul Ekins is busy as a concerto player and a chamber music musician who travels all over the world as well as participating in educational and outreach work. This is an outstanding young pianist who is assured of a brilliant career and the Society is proud to have been able to hear him.

Masterclass and Recital at Christchurch University, Dr. Stuart Field, Canterbury Rotary Club Website
That Canterbury was able to welcome back the outstanding international pianist John Paul Ekins to the intimate St Gregory’s Centre was the result of the continuing highly successful collaboration between the Rotary Club of Canterbury and Canterbury Christ Church University, raising funds to support and enhance the studying of music students in training at the Music School.
The Concert was in two sections. The first half comprised John Paul accompanying Christchurch music student instrumentalists and singers, who earlier in the day had undergone masterclasses with him. ‘The improvements shown by the students in the 20mins of one to one tuition that they had with John Paul earlier in the day was truly remarkable’ commented David Allington, Director of Music at Christchurch.
The second half saw John Paul at his brilliant best. A well-chosen repertoire of popular music was ideal for the large, relatively non specialist audience. Addinsell’s well known, ‘Warsaw Concerto’, arranged for solo piano, which was music composed for the 1941 film Dangerous Moonlight, enchanted us with the composers unashamed use of indulgent harmonies and grand Romantic gestures.
The flawless playing of Chopin’s popular Mazurka in A minor Op 17, No 4 , which was composed in France, followed, which John Paul ended with a prolonged period of silence, and no applause, remembering the terrible atrocities in Paris the night previously.
Liszt’s dramatic one movement tone poem, Ballade No 2 in B Minor with its dramatic and frenetic rhythms was played with such virtuosity that one was left wondering how John Paul’s brain managed to communicate with his fingers so effectively!
The finale was a real treat! Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue played with a background orchestral tape, to ensure that the jazz of the orchestra was not missing from the performance, and with a ‘click track’ plugged into John Paul’s ear to ensure exact co-ordination with the tape – a technique frequently used by pop musicians but previously not seen by your reviewer in a classical music concert. He finished to thunderous applause.
Not only did we hear some brilliantly performed music but the packed hall were given a short analysis of each piece of music prior to its playing, which together with comprehensive programme notes, greatly enhanced our enjoyment of the evenings programme.
This young performer not only gave us an evening of technically almost perfect, varied and well-chosen recital pieces but was able to communicate with his audience both emotionally and verbally in a way which is rarely seen.
Well done Canterbury Rotary for bringing to us yet another evening of fine musical entertainment!

Masterclass and Recital at Christchurch University, Hannah Jacobi, Christchurch University Website
On the 14th November our intrepid students set out once more for a masterclass, this time with the incomparable John Paul Ekins, set up by the Rotary Club in aid of the Student Scholarship Fund. Our Wonderful 3rd Year Reporter Hannah Jacobi gives us her account of the day:

On Saturday 14th November a group of six (rather terrified) students gathered in St Greg’s for a public masterclass by the sensational pianist and accompanist John Paul Ekins. The six of us 2nd and 3rd year students were to have 20 minutes each of rehearsal time with John Paul before performing with him in a packed concert very kindly put on by the Rotary Club in aid of the student scholarship fund… now you might understand why we were all so nervous!

As the masterclass kicked off we each took to the stage for our coaching time. I sang a beautiful and sadly rarely performed piece called Song to the Seals by Granville Bartock. This lyrical song written in 1930 is a musical depiction of Bartock’s holiday to the Hebrides where he heard a woman singing the lilting refrain whilst perched on a rock near the sea. I began with a rather timid rendition but after a little teasing, John Paul soon had me singing it much closer to how it should be sung. He helped me realise the momentum of the piece that could really bring it to life.

We all left the masterclass full of new ideas for our pieces, with only a couple of hours to get them into our heads before the concert! Although we were all a little daunted by the speed of it all, we were stunned by how much of a difference John Paul had made in such a tiny amount of time! As all six of us came to perform in the concert, we were very nervous but somehow felt so relaxed because of John Paul’s kind words.

After the interval, we were all able to sit back and enjoy John Paul’s solo set! His playing left our jaws on the floor! His renditions of Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto and Liszt’s Ballade No 2 in B minor were filled with drama and left us all in awe of the speed he was able to move his fingers with such accuracy! John Paul also paid tribute to the atrocities in Paris which had taken place just the night prior by asking for silence rather than applause at the end of his beautiful rendition of Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor Op 17, No 4. He ended his amazing performance with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, which he, to the audience’s amusement, played to an orchestral backing track, after saying in the earlier masterclass that no accompanist should be a click track for the soloist!

So after a day packed with tremendous and highly insightful coaching we ended on a high after not only listening to his stunning playing but also having the amazing opportunity to perform with a musician of his calibre. A great day had by all.

Beethoven Triple Concerto with Sevenoaks Symphony Orchestra
Viewed from some angles Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is a leviathan, but also the most delicate of chamber music, having at its core a piano trio. So a huge range of textures and nuances to explore as well as rather a lot of notes. I can’t recall going to a live performance of this before and that was the case for many in the audience. The soloists Nazrin Rashidova [violin] Liubov Ulybysheva [cello] and John Paul Ekins [piano] gave us an insight into Beethoven’s revisiting of the trio combination, it would be good to know if they play the early Beethoven trios together in a chamber setting. There was no doubting their virtuosity and I particularly enjoyed the crystal clarity of articulation from all three. It’s very difficult sorting out positioning for this sort of concertante work without taking the lid off the piano – I just wondered if some more eye contact between piano and string soloists would have helped the trio ensemble gel a little more naturally. The slow movement’s atmosphere was well caught with lovely lyrical playing from all involved, orchestra and soloists. Often an exciting thing about young soloists is the fresh approach to interpretation – particularly tempi, and we had plenty to excite us on Sunday.

Wigmore Hall Park Lane Group Recital, Claire Seymour, Opera Today
Remarkably assured, and accompanied empathetically and imaginatively by pianist John Paul Ekins, Alder revealed an alluring voice characterised by lyrical charm and astonishing power, particularly at the top; and her vocal prowess was complemented by a sure sense of poetic meaning and musical poetry.

Benjamin Britten’s song cycle On This Island began the programme. Taking their cue from the title of the opening song, ‘Let the florid music praise’, Ekins and Alder relished the Handelian grandeur of the quasi-fanfare rhetoricisms, the soprano’s vocal lines charged with drama and energy, Ekins’ Baroque ornamentations ostentatious and rhythmically propulsive.

Four songs by Richard Strauss followed.‘Waldesfahrt’ (Woodland journey) was eerily light of touch, the piano’s cascades and evocative diminishment suggesting the shadowy forms ‘nodding through the carriage window’ (‘Kopnickend zum Wagen herein’); the muted ending — as the shadows ‘blend together like mist’ and ‘giggle and dart’ away — was particularly affecting. ‘Schlechtes Wetter’ (Wretched weather) is a vivid setting of Heine’s depiction of quiet family life within and torrential rain without. The performers modulated effectively between the insouciant relaxation of domestic harmony, especially in the swinging waltz-like final stanza, and the dry discord which conveys the dreadful deluge seen through the window-panes.

After the interval came Franz Liszt’s Tre Sonetti di Petrarcha, settings of Petrarch’s sonnets 47, 104 and 123, which tell of the poet’s love for a woman named Laura. Surprisingly Italianate, these songs exploit bel canto idioms — virtuosic display, a wide vocal range, legato melodic lines, climatic phrase structures — and Alder proved equal to all the technical demands. Ekins too mastered the quasi- orchestral accompaniment with ease (the songs were originally published in transcribed form for piano solo). The introduction to ‘Benedetto sia ‘l giorno, e ‘I mese, e l’anno’ (Blessed by the day, the month, the year) had a warm sense of expanse, and the song gained in urgency, an impetuous accelerando towards the close expressing the obsessiveness of the poet’s passion.

During the recitative opening of ‘Pace non trovo’ (I find no peace), Ekins etched the piano lines, particularly the left hand gestures, with real clarity, then found an orchestral resonance in the more operatic aria section, as Alder’s melody blossomed, culminating in an intense climax cut short by a theatrical silence: ‘Equalmente mi spiace morte e vita’ (death and life alike repel me). Then, the gently undulating accompaniment to ‘I’ vidi in terra angelici costumi’ (I beheld on earth angelic grace) established a sweetness upon which Alder beautifully floated her graceful melody.

After these Austrian and Italian sojourns the performers returned to home territory with three songs by Frank Bridge. ‘Goldenhair’, a setting of Joyce, was characterised by vivid textures and expressive harmonies. ‘When most I wink’, composed when Bridge was a student and the first of his songs to survive, and ‘Love wen a-riding’ were clearly and lightly enunciated by Alder, who communicated the songs’ simple charm engagingly.

Recital for Hexham Music Society, Tony Edwards, Hexham Courant
John Paul Ekins is a young pianist much in demand and a winner of many awards. It was easy to see why, from a Hexham recital earlier this month. Each item, both the piece and its composer, was engagingly introduced. It began with Mozart’s Fantasia in C-minor. The piece is complex, more intense than was usual at the time, and its dramatic changes of mood were given full expression.

It was followed by a Schubert Impromptu. The programme notes mention the ‘cascade of rippling arpeggios’ which this reviewer has failed to cope with for more years than he likes to remember. There was certainly no failure here. The performance brought together those ‘rippling’ runs with contrasting, heart-felt melodies.

The third piece was probably unknown to everyone except the pianist, who himself discovered it only last year during the Britten celebrations. It is a young man’s music, written in Britten’s twenties as a portrait of a day at the seaside. It was the only piece not performed from memory, but this took nothing from the vitality and sense of fun.

The second half was heavier in tone. Brahms’ Intermezzi Op.117 are contemplative, largely warm and gentle in tone, and were very movingly played.

Last came what the pianist called ‘the small matter of the Waldstein’. Written shortly after the Eroica Symphony, it contains some heroic challenges. In dramatic contrast to quiet passages and a beautifully delicate slow movement, there are sections of elemental power which left the pianist looking the worse for wear. Even so, he had the energy for a delightful Chopin Mazurka as an encore.

The warmth of audience response was a thoroughly deserved tribute to the excellence of his playing, musicianship and choice of programme.

Recital for Tickhill Music Society, Philip Mottram, Sheffield Star
Tickhill Music Society’s first concert of 2014 was a piano recital given by John Paul Ekins. Notable features of the evening were the verbal introductions given by the artist – richly informative and illuminating. The evening began with a Mozart Fantasy (K.475) played crisply and with assurance. There followed Schubert’s Impromptu in A flat, Op.90 No. 4 – melodic but with overtones of Schubertian pathos. Next came Britten’s Holiday Diary, Op. 5, an early work in three movements. This gave impressionistic accounts of a splashy early morning bathe, a serene trip on a sailing boat and finally a boisterous Fun Fair.
After the interval there were three Intermezzi (Op.117) by Brahms, the first with a yearning melody, the second rather solemn and the third, slow, dark and march-like.
The evening was rounded off in fine style with a majestic account of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 (Op.53) known as the Waldstein, the name of the Count to whom it is dedicated. This was a thoroughly satisfying evening of splendid music-making delivered with sensitivity, technical accomplishment and panache. Mr. Ekins has an engaging personality and mastery of his instrument, and his musicianship was much enjoyed by the audience who applauded with sincere enthusiasm. Another rewarding concert from this enterprising Music Society.

Recital for Save the Children in Aldeburgh, Humphrey Burton, C.B.E.
John Paul Ekins’ debut Aldeburgh concert in 2011 was a notable success, and word of it must have spread around the town because the parish church welcomed a full house to his return recital. He offered a nicely balanced programme. In the first half, short works by Mozart and Schubert, Benjamin Britten’s favourite composers, ushered in an imposing performance of our local hero’s rarely heard Holiday Diary, Opus 5. It’s a youthful work, one of the rare occasions when Britten composed for solo piano; it’s by turns breathtakingly brilliant and deeply introspective, in the mode of the Moonlight movement of the Peter Grimes Sea Interludes. But deeper emotional territory was explored after the interval with two short Liszt works followed by Beethoven’s immortal Waldstein sonata. Liszt’s Love Song brought out the full richness of the Steinway like nothing else in the programme, heart-stirring stuff indeed! But the best was saved for last, an inspired white-hot interpretation of the Waldstein which almost literally blew us away: technical wizardry was combined with taut rhythms and powerful attack.

It all made for a stimulating evening, much enhanced by Mr. Ekins’ brief but eloquent spoken introductions. I hope we shall soon be able to hear him in one of the larger local concert venues – although the intimacy of the church surroundings and acoustic were greatly appreciated.

Masterclass-Recital at Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge, Gemma Martino
Each student had prepared a piece of music to play on the day and John Paul gave them feed back on technique, fluency and style, giving performance techniques throughout. The feedback showed professionalism and insight and the students were able to see ways in which they could improve their final performances. John Paul focused on the individual style and technique of each performer and was able to give a valuable critique to each. Pianists from the school were invited to sit on the masterclass, to listen and to get helpful tips to support their own playing.

In the evening there was a recital at St Mary’s church, Woodbridge. In the first half our pianists played their prepared pieces and in the second half John Paul played a repertoire including Beethoven and Liszt which was really quite incredible. After a particularly fast passage of Beethoven, one of the students gave a wry smile and said ‘Yep, that was good!’

Students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and although they were nervous to begin with, they appreciated the advice they were given. It is lovely for students to have opportunities like these. Not only does it give the chance for real specialist input from a concert pianist working in the industry, it was the chance to develop technical and stylistic skills too. The recital was the opportunity for the students to share their love of music through performance and John Paul showed them what could be achieved with continued dedication and hard work. It was a great day!

Recital for Woking Concert Society, Lewis Orchard
“John Paul commenced his recital with one of Mozart’s keyboard sonatas, K311, in which his clear articulation in the first and third movements was most appropriate for the style and was a suitable foil for the unsophisticated simplicity of the second movement Andante. He followed this with a passionate performance of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie in which the changes of mood and tempo of this important late work were impressive.

His recital continued after the interval with a brilliant performance of Schumann’s Op.22 sonata in which the rapid virtuoso passages were executed with confidence, whilst the romantic side of this fascinating composer was brought out well in the beautiful Andantino. Then followed a short, attractive Nocturne by Smyth in which her ability to compose in a lyrical vein was clearly demonstrated. Two of Liszt’s Swiss “années de Pèlerinage” followed in which John Paul demonstrated his deep understanding of the works with passages of intense poetic feeling, juxtaposed with sections of fearsome virtuosity. He concluded his recital with a work by the contemporary French-Canadian composer, François Morel, his second “Study in Sonority” revealing in places the influence of Messaien.

This was a first class recital, fully up to Wigmore Hall standard, evidently much enjoyed by the audience, who clearly appreciated John Paul’s introductory remarks before each work and who requested an early return of this accomplished young pianist.”

Recital for Cromer Music Evenings, Terry Keeler
“This young artist proved to be immensely mature in interpretation, possessing innate technical qualities and charisma, enhanced by a brief but very informative summary of each composer’s background relating to the pieces played.

Schubert’s Vier Impromptus D.899/1&4. Two works which bore no relation to each other, as the first played mirrored Schubert’s views on mortality, as he became ill at 20 years old. The music full of pathos and dark tonalities was played with great feeling as if today’s artist fully understood the mood of Schubert at the time.

The next Impromptu in A flat major in complete contrast to the first, with the melodic line mainly in the bass to start with, was embellished by delicate groups of semi quavers as broken chords in the treble. Then came the middle section where the melodic line was in the treble. Here the key changed to C sharp minor, creating deep passion where Ekins maintained the quality of the melody even though it required accompaniment with full chords in both clefs, so impressive.

Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu dans la Solitude S.173/3 – a composition written over 7 years consisted of 10 pieces. This wonderful work demanded virtuosic technique which today seemed effortless to this pianist.

Ravel’s Sonatine written in 1903, in sonata form, with the last movement being described as a virtuosic toccata, delighted today’s audience.

Schumann’s Etudes Symphoniques Op 13. A work of 9 variations described as compositionally extraordinary, certainly was the case – performed with great authority – confirming which was evident in the opening piece, that John Paul Ekins has a great future as a soloist.”

Recital for Andover Music Club, Katy Littleworth
The audience instantly warmed to him. He was immediately disarming and very welcoming as he made his way to the microphone to introduce himself and the opening piece, Fantasy in C minor. He had an informal and relaxed air about him. He looked very comfortable on the stage as he explained, in quite a lot of depth, the history of the piece. He calmly took his seat at the piano, composed himself and then began. From that fist striking chord and then gently and mysteriously creeping up the keys, it was clear that we were all in for a wonderfully exciting evening. I genuinely couldn’t believe that his hands were making this exquisite sound.

The first thought I had was how emotional he was in his playing; almost playful during many of the pieces. Particularly in
Britten’s Holiday Diary: Early Morning Bathe and, a little surprise before the interval, Shchedrin’s Humoreske.

Schubert’s Impromptu in A Flat was just beautiful. I couldn’t help but imagine that the piano was a a living thing which needed to be tamed and what a wonderful job John Paul was doing of it! He gave in to every note like he was giving up his soul utterly and completely to this exquisite piece of music.

He concluded his performance with Beethoven’s Sonata No. 21 (The Waldstein) which I have to say was the ideal way to end the concert. The highlight of the entire performance for me was the Allegro Con Brio. Listening to it as I write these words just makes me want to experience the performance all over again.

Whether possible or not, the performance was totally exhilarating, yet completely relaxing. This was a recital by such a wonderful and beguiling artist. Thank you, John Paul Ekins.

Recital for The Keyboard Charitable Trust at Steinway Hall, Bill Newman
“Here was a programme with a difference. Apart from the choice of music, which ranged between a couple of Piano Sonatas: the demanding Schumann No.2 in G minor where the performer is requested to phrase in a musical manner while pressing the overall tempo forward as fast as possible, without disrupting the overall shape and continuity of the musical line, and Janacek’s Sonata X.1905, dedicated to the memory of a young labourer who was cruelly executed without too much regret, in scathing circumstances. Presentiment (Con moto) and The Death (Adagio) depicts it all. But this is the kind of climatic situation that the Czech composer excelled in, and gave an unusual dramatic slant to in his operas. The emotive, shorter pieces of Franz Liszt: Sonetto 47 del Petrarca; Liebestraum in A flat, were both reminders of happier, earlier days of youth and ardour, while Maurice Ravel’s descriptive Jeux d’Eau was a personal favourite of both Moiseiwitsch and Cortot. Which left Morel’s demanding Deuxieme Etude de Sonorite to provide the Piece de Resistance that closed the programme.

I spoke of ‘a difference’. To my delight, John Paul chose to introduce each work. So confidently entertaining and professional was this that I wondered if BBC Radio 3 would direct their efforts to producing more solo events that combine the player’s programme choice coupled with his performing expertise.”

Recital for Save the Children in Aldeburgh, Humphrey Burton, C.B.E.
“The piano recital by John Paul Ekins, presented by Aldeburgh branch of the Save the Children charity on November 3rd, proved to be an event of festival quality. A large and very appreciative audience assembled in the parish church to hear the very gifted Mr Ekins put the church’s recently acquired Steinway through a stern test, from which both instrument and performer emerged with flying colours. We heard classic purity in the opening Mozart sonata (K 311) in which Mr Ekins offered impeccably stylish and deft playing that allowed the crystalline tone of the piano’s upper register to come to the fore. Some dazzling Chopin, the elaborate Polonaise Fantasie, completed part one of the recital. However the heaviest guns in Mr Ekins’s impressive armoury were reserved for the second half. It began all sweetness and light with two divine Schubert Impromptus, which were included at the request of committee member Rosemary Wood. Then came the revelation of the evening, two of Liszt’s wonderful piano tone poems from the collection entitled Pilgrimage Years. The second, The Bells of Geneva, a nocturne, was all delicate impressionism, harmonically a surprising foretaste of Debussy. The Valley of Obermann, which preceded it, is a grand evocation of nature in all its moods (including a thunderous tempest!). Pianistically it pushes the performer to the limit, requiring prodigies of technical prowess. But it’s also a soul- searcher: as Liszt himself declared, the onlooker is forced to consider his own nature: “what do I want? Who am I? What do I ask of nature?” John Paul Ekins was visibly moved by the end: his commitment had touched us all. The recital ended with a virtuoso Study in Sonority
(1967) by the French-Canadian composer Francois Morel, much influenced by Messiaen. Exciting stuff, but I would have preferred something deliberately cheerful – Children’s Corner by Debussy comes to mind – but at least the encore, Traumerei, was chosen from Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood. All in all, this was a distinguished Aldeburgh debut, enlivened throughout by sensible introductory comments which were helpful without a hint of the dumbing down that these days mars so much musical presentation on the radio.

To conclude, Save the Children deserves our thanks and congratulations for arranging a top-rank recital and for providing excellent wine and canapés to follow; it was nice to see Mr Ekins mingling with the crowd.”

Recital at St. Lawrence Jewry, London, Soirées at Breinton
An enjoyable lunch time concert; His thoughtful, tasteful and reliable performance, spoken introductions to each piece, and his warm and friendly personality were well received by the audience and added great charm to the concert. Each piece was preceded by a short talk, which was both informative and interesting, focusing on the composer’s life around the time of the composition and how their works were created. It was neither a lecture nor knowledge learned overnight just because he had to play those pieces today! Having been introduced to each piece, I naturally became interested and engaged in the music I was hearing. I wonder if all his concerts are delivered in this style? It certainly breaks the ice between the performer and the audience and is generally appreciated by the audience very much.

John Paul started the concert with Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, K396. I felt it was not the usual Mozart piece to start a concert – rather dark and sorrowful, but what a beautiful work. The upward arpeggios and gorgeous melody that followed were well paced and in control. It was a convincing performance.

The second piece was a delightful Sonatine by Ravel. I found his playing delightfully moving and tasteful. Although short, I think this Sonatine was full of technical demands which he tactfully managed and showed no hassle.

The last piece was Liszt’s Cantique d’Amour, from Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses. With hugely romantic playing with fine phrasing, I enjoyed it very much.

John Ireland Recital at Leighton House, Bruce Phillips (Chairman, Ireland Trust)
“I was quite overwhelmed by the quality of playing and singing. It was one of the high spots of the anniversary year.”

John Ireland Recital at Leighton House, Stephen Banfield
“The music of John Ireland is in very safe hands indeed for the next generation. These brilliant young performers offer expertise, enthusiasm, commitment and extraordinary understanding. One never expected such qualities to be brought to bear on an English repertoire that is clearly at the centre of their world, which of course is where it should have been all along. Louise Alder makes every song into a masterpiece, and the chamber music stands out and stands up with all the passion and progressive stylistic awareness with which it was originally invested.”

Workshop Recital at Appledore Primary School, Appledore News
“On Thursday Key Stage 1 & 2 took part in a 1 hour workshop with John Paul Ekins who is a concert pianist. John Paul talked about the workings of the piano which is known as ‘the king of the instruments’. He also talked about composers and their music and got the children to talk about their responses to the pieces he played. It was fantastic to watch as lots of children played along using imaginary keyboards. Some children also played the piano themselves. This was a brilliant experience and something I know the children will remember forever.”

Recital at The Fold for Billericay Arts Association, Tully Potter
“A likeable recitalist who introduced each item with brief remarks, he tailored his programme sensitively to an out-of-town audience. Some of his playing was outstanding, especially as he will encounter more responsive pianos during his career – and ones with less noisy actions.

Ekins seemed to get into his stride with the Chopin, which he delivered with considerable bravura and cumulative power.

We are still getting fall-out from last year’s Liszt anniversary, which is good because this composer, for all his great fame, is not played as much as he deserves. Ekins was fully in command of his three choices from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, although I hope he will consider spinning out the great ‘Bénédiction’ a little more. The piece can take a slightly more-reflective approach.

Ekins’s best playing came in his last number, the 1967 Étude by the French-Canadian pianist-composer François Morel (born 1926). This is a splendid virtuoso piece, a superb programme closer, and it was performed magnificently. As an encore, Ekins gave us Rodion Shchedrin’s quirky Humoresque, which he played with delightful timing and wit.”

Feedback from Masterclass and Recital in Framlingham, Suffolk
Some student comments:

Nicole – “JP was great at explaining something in different ways until I completely understood. It sounds obvious, but he was just so amazing. I felt really inspired.”

Audrey – “I will never look at a piece of music in the same way again.”

Narjiss – “He was so positive and lovely. Not once did he tell someone they were ‘doing it the wrong way’, he just gently encouraged a different approach, really confidence-giving. When is the next one?”

Liz Ingate (students’ teacher) – “A few seconds into the class I knew it was going to be a magical morning for the students and it was such a pleasure for me to have played a role in making it happen. I wasn’t sure if it would be slightly over the kids’ heads or worse still, patronising. (I have attended masterclasses that were very enlightening as to the musician’s real character!) You adapted so quickly to the level of each pupil whilst treating them as adults – perfect. It was wonderful to see their playing come to life with your expert guidance and patience.

My teaching will also receive a big boost from your insights and approach, so you have in fact affected many more children than those you saw on Saturday. Thank you – I am more than ever inspired to return to my own playing and study, to keep sharing new insights with my pupils.

Whilst your piano playing is simply extraordinary, you are much more than your performing persona – it is yourself, your willingness and openness to be true to yourself and ‘connect’ with others that is the gift, and one you cannot lose. I imagine you are capable of expressing this gift through whatever medium/life journey you choose.”

Recital for Theydon Bois Music Society, Trevor Roberts
“The Theydon Bois Music Society held its last musical meeting at which a piano recital was given by John Paul Ekins, a young musician of increasing repute who was making a popular return to Theydon Bois.

John Paul’s recital comprised works by Liszt, Morel, Mozart and Schubert. The large audience was most appreciative of his brilliant, stylish and deft playing giving a sympathetic interpretation of each item. Especially appreciated were the Liszt Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude and an exhilarating performance of Schumann’s Études Symphoniques. The audience accorded him sustained and appreciative applause as a fitting conclusion to a long series of classical music recitals in the village of Theydon Bois. The Society was singularly fortunate to have had such an eminent musician play at its final musical meeting.”

Recital for Andover Music Club, Roland Treby
“The audience was treated to an evening of wonderful music, beautifully played by two extremely talented young artists, each already a master of his chosen instrument. These two musicians must surely be big names of tomorrow. Each a virtuoso in his own right, together they proved a formidable pairing. James Toll’s relaxed manner of playing the violin, and his deceptive ease of brilliant fingering and bowing, bewitched the audience, whilst John Paul Ekins’ dazzling and sensitive fingerwork on the resident grand piano also held the audience spellbound.

Their programme was a very full and demanding one, with neither player having any real respite, and demonstrated clearly their musicianship:

The robust start of the Grieg Violin Sonata No. 3 in C minor Op. 45, played with great precision, gave us an immediate taste of the evening’s wonderful playing to follow. The last of the fiery Sonata’s three movements ended with a climactic finish. Beethoven’s well-loved ‘Spring’ Sonata No. 5 in F major Op. 24 was played with a freshness and attack that the composition deserved and the players’ enjoyment and rapport throughout its four lovely movements was very obvious. After the Interval, we were treated to the Dvorák Sonatina in G major Op. 100 which, although often lilting and jovial, was clearly no less demanding to play and all four movements were thoroughly enjoyable. The Elgar Violin Sonata in E minor Op 82 is, as John Paul explained beforehand to the audience, often perhaps unsettling music and unlike what one has come to expect from Elgar. It opened in an angry way and later relaxed into an air of mystery and uncertainty with the music often being atonal. It was, however, a joy to the ear and a great piece with which to end the programme.

The playing throughout the concert was of great maturity and insight, making one wish that the evening would never end. End it inevitably did, of course, and to very loud applause; we could not have asked for more. The audience must have gone home with very sore palms indeed.”

Recital at Colston Hall, J. Bennett
“Beginning with Schumann’s Kinderszenen, in the most famous of the pieces, Dreaming, the soloist showed a perfect touch and feeling for this particular theme. In the last of the sections, The Poet Speaks, he went through all the emotions before coming to a quiet ending. This was a classic, purposeful account in which he showed a profound understanding of the composer’s meaning.

Busoni was renowned for his transcriptions and in the famous Chaconne he states the theme with great force. John Paul had the many vagaries of the piece completely in control with some brilliant playing.”

Rachmaninoff's 2nd Piano Concerto, Uxbridge Gazette
“The sombre opening chords from the piano were as powerful as the music that followed, which ran the whole gamut of the emotions. There was a huge cheer from the audience after the stirring finale, and a well-deserved ovation for the young soloist. If this first-class performance was anything to go by, he has a glittering future ahead of him.”

Recital for Harting Music Club, Petersfield Post
“John Paul’s interpretation of Scarlatti displayed a variety of expression and thought, while Beethoven’s sonata which followed showed a depth of understanding and control. The Brahms was demanding, exciting and required a depth of knowledge of the range, power and light touch in the composition, while the stunning, absorbing and rich Chopin Scherzo brought the afternoon to a happy close for the delighted audience.”

Gershwin's Piano Concerto, Woking News & Mail
“A memorable performance. John Paul Ekins is the winner of this year’s Woking Young Musician Competition and the talent that enabled him to win that contest shone clearly through. His verve, energy and sheer musical talent communicated itself to the orchestra and the overall result was superb, bringing cheers from the audience. Such a performance should establish John Paul in the minds of all those attending as a rising star who has every right to expect a glittering future.”

Recital in Zakopane, Poland, Marek Skocza
“John Paul Ekins gave an extraordinary performance. He played Scarlatti’s Sonata in A Major with virtuosity, producing a wonderful, pearly sound. In Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque and Chopin’s Scherzo in B Flat Minor he showed how well he can strike a balance between impressionism and romanticism. Such was his wonderful interpretation of this composer’s music, the enraptured audience were delighted when John Paul played one of Chopin’s famous Mazurkas as an encore.”

Recital for Harting Music Club, Petersfield Post
“Harting Music Club’s June concert introduced us to two very talented young musicians – James Toll, violin, and John Paul Ekins, piano. The Brahms Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Major was warm and thought-provoking. This work represents Brahms at his most lyrical, and it unfurled naturally with eloquence from the beginning of the work. There was a seductive sureness and a flawless confidence about the playing from these young musicians. The pianist contributed many delicate touches, and there was great depth of phrasing from both players, using a wide dynamic palette.

Beethoven’s Sonata for Piano and Violin in G Major Op.96 again demonstrated the flexible approach, musicianship, and skill of both players. The work had moments of intense passion and sudden bursts of energy, which provided a vivid contrast to the overall tranquil mood. This was a wonderful afternoon of chamber music played by two consummate musicians in delightful surroundings.”

Recital at Warminster Athenaeum, Warminster Journal & Wiltshire Times
“A capacity audience at the Athenaeum in Warminster on Sunday were treated to a splendid concert given by the duo partnership of John Paul Ekins (piano) and Michal Cwizewicz (violin).

Schubert’s Sonatina in G minor for piano and violin received an assured performance which brought out many messages indicative of the more mature master. The dazzling Scherzo in C minor by Brahms then sent the audience happily away to the interval.

There were two works in the second half of the concert, the first of these being Busoni’s 1892 reworking for piano of the Bach D minor Chaconne for violin. The marvellous percussive sonorities of the modern grand piano enable us to consider the Chaconne from a different viewpoint, and John Paul Ekins gave a highly persuasive and sensitive performance of what must be one of the finest of Busoni’s many Bach transcriptions.

The programme was completed with the Violin Sonata by the Polish composer Szymanowski. The duo’s partnership was here shown at its best in a wonderfully committed performance.”