Underground music

Maria Marchant, Under Ground Theatre Eastbourne

THERE are few places in Sussex that compare with Eastbourne’s Under Ground Theatre when it comes to the enjoyment of music.

It’s a proper theatre, with a stage, dressing-rooms and a marvellous coffee bar, but more than that it has a buzz about it which is infectious.

Now riding high, with a wonderful art exhibition in the reconditioned foyer, this gem under the library is packing ‘em in for (unbelievably) chamber music and piano recitals.

The numerous volunteers who run the place (no grant, and a sizeable rent payable to East Sussex Council) prove, if proof be needed, that a well-run committee and a lot of smiling faces can overcome even the tightest financial constraints.

On Sunday June 10th the Under Ground Theatre’s fine, revamped Danemann Concert Grand was under the magical hands of Maria Marchant.

Born in Brighton and raised in Seaford, she is already enjoying a successful career far beyond the immediate locality; by the time she yielded to the prolonged applause and gave her encore (Earl Wild’s superb arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime”) no-one was in any doubt that she is very special. Her programme (entirely delivered from memory) was varied and challenging.

Her charm was evident in her willingness to talk to the audience as well as to perform.

The first half was all English, and ranged from Arne (the excellent programme’s one slip-up gave his dates as 1770-1778) to Ronald Stevenson (born 1928).

The delicate pianistic textures of Arne were a revelation to those who know him only through his songs; and Stevenson’s “Fantasy on Peter Grimes” (requiring the performer to pluck the actual strings) was -well- “interesting”. Ultimately I felt that any attempt to transfer Britten’s orchestration to one keyboard was asking the impossible; but we could have had no better advocate than Maria. In two works by John Ireland and one by Frank Bridge (both of whom had strong connections with Sussex) the genius of two somewhat neglected composers was revealed in playing of extraordinary power and eloquence.

After the interval it was all Chopin, from the relative simplicity of the “Raindrop Prelude” to the demanding, technique-stretching “G Minor Ballade”, to which Maria brought a sense of “controlled abandon” that is the mark of great Chopin playing.

In the two “Opus 27 Nocturnes” the piano sang with crepuscular sweetness; and in three of the “Opus 25 Studies” the technical demands were somehow wrapped in the musical qualities that Chopin brought to the genre and that Maria revealed to the full. The reviewer’s only problem after such a concert is how to find sufficient means of praising the performer without sounding gooey. Well, I have tried !

Robin Gregory