REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on Ian Pace, York Late Music, Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, November 4

Ian Pace: “Monarch of the keyboard”

THE Late Music concert series, aka Living Music, Live, has made a habit of inviting pianist Ian Pace over the years. It is easy to see why. He is a monarch of the keyboard, not least in repertory of the last two centuries.

He brought his full powers to bear on a programme that began and ended with Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven, with Gershwin and Kern transcriptions by Michael Finnissy and Steve Crowther’s Fourth Piano Sonata in between.

This was the opening concert in what is planned to be an annual series, The Beethoven Project, curated by Crowther and focused around all of Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven’s symphonies.

Liszt was an indefatigable transcriber of works by others, especially where they could be incorporated into his own virtuoso recitals. They also provided him with a more or less regular income.

His version of Beethoven’s Fifth is masterly, seemingly leaving nothing out and taxing the pianist to the very limit. But Pace was equal to his every demand. No-one could claim that this was a note-perfect account – how could it be? – but it was dazzling nonetheless.

He started with the three opening quavers so rapid that they were almost indistinguishable. The whole first movement, complete with repeat of the exposition, was adrenalin-fuelled, with the left hand in constant motion.

The Andante was richly voiced, with strong accents. All the statements of its rondo theme were insistent, although some of the diversions were taken more gently. Some of the humour of the third movement – effectively a scherzo and trio – was lost to heavy treatment, so that Beethoven’s subtle instrumentation in the fugato became too distant a memory.

But one could only gasp in admiration at the orchestral tone that Pace generated in the finale, with his left hand again moving at frightening speed. The work as a whole inevitably emerged more percussively than the original. But Liszt’s achievement was never in doubt.

Pace had opened with Liszt’s version of the first song-cycle in history, Beethoven’s An die Ferne Geliebte (To The Distant Beloved), six songs given without a break. Pace took great pains to highlight the vocal melodies, while opting for measured tempos larded with considerable rubato, probably more than a singer would countenance.

As the cycle progressed Pace made his upper register twinkle several times, not least with the trilling of birds in the unheard text.

Michael Finnissy’s ‘transcriptions’ from songs by Gershwin and Kern were much less literal than the Liszt and much more like arrangements, preferring to conjure atmosphere and doodle over harmonies.

In Love Is Here To Stay (from the 1938 film The Goldwyn Follies), the tune was held back until near the end, although in Embraceable You (from Girl Crazy) it was the jazz element that took control. Best of all was his version of Kern’s Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man (from Show Boat) where the melody was disguised but always detectable. Pace had them well organised.

So also in Steve Crowther’s Fourth Sonata, which sounded not unconnected with the Gershwin that preceded it, although sparer harmonically. Pace sustained excellent momentum and a staccato touch through the rapid opening movement, which was awash with syncopation and sounded like a rondo.

The slow movement was more ruminative, although tastily decorated with roulades. Decorations during the finale tended to occur in the right hand while the left carried the main theme. But both hands flitted lightly around the keyboard – and I swear I could hear traces of Kern here; perhaps they were just left over in my aural memory. But the work was never less than intriguing and often much more.

Pace had once again proved a mighty champion of the new and the little-known.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Ian Pace to begin Late Music York’s Beethoven Project of Liszt symphonic transcriptions to piano on Saturday

Ian Pace: Launching The Beethoven Project for Late Music York on Saturday

VIRTUOSO pianist Ian Pace will perform Late Music York’s first recital of The Beethoven Project at the Unitarian Chapel, St Saviourgate, York, on Saturday night.

Devised by Pace and Late Music administrator Steve Crowther, the project involves programming the whole cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt in an annual series of piano recitals.

“Playing all nine transcribd Beethoven symphonies, the project should take Ian seven to eight years!” says Steve. “It’s incredibly demanding and it’ll be a real event.”

The opening 7.30pm concert features the heroic Symphony No. 5 and Liszt’s sublime transcription of the radical An die Ferne Geliebte, Beethoven’s only song cycle.

But why did Liszt undertake such an enormous artistic challenge?” asks Steve. “To be sure, he loved the music deeply; he loved the challenge; he also loved the idea of the intimacy of performing these orchestral works on the piano, experiencing the symphonies afresh.

“But the main reason was financial. The music publisher Breitkopf & Härtel commissioned Liszt to transcribe the work, paying him eight francs per page. Liszt completed this (and the 6th Symphony) in 1837, ten years after Beethoven’s death.”

In an interview in 1988, the great pianist Vladimir Horowitz said: “I deeply regret never having played Liszt’s arrangements of the Beethoven symphonies in public. These are the greatest works for the piano – tremendous works – every note of the symphonies is in the Liszt works.”

Steve says: “Horowitz’s comments are embedded in the score itself to help the performer realise the original work through the lens of the piano transcription. Liszt would note down the names of the orchestral instruments for the pianist to imitate and add pedal marks and fingerings for pianistic clarity.”

Late Music York’s poster for the Beethoven Project

Saturday’s full concert programme is:

Beethoven: An die Ferne Geliebte (transcribed by Franz Liszt) ;

Gershwin: Love Is Here To Stay (transcribed by Michael Finnissy);

Gershwin: Embraceable You (transcribed by Michael Finnissy);

Gershwin (maybe): Please Pay Some Attention To Me (transcribed by Michael Finnissy)

Jerome Kern: Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man (transcribed by Michael Finnissy)

 Steve Crowther: Piano Sonata No.4;

Beethoven: Symphony No.5 (transcribed by Franz Liszt).

“Now if we park the rogue Piano Sonata, the rest of the programme also reimagines original works, songs by Gershwin and Kern, for piano. This time transcribed by the wonderful composer, Michael Finnissy,” says Steve.

“I know Michael, having studied with him at the University of Sussex and continued contact with him through programming, and commissioning his highly original music. Indeed, it was Michael that introduced me and Late Music to Ian Pace. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Crowther sent Finnissy the programme blueprint, “not surprisingly receiving a corrective response with a lovely insight into Gershwin’s Please Pay Some Attention To Me”.

Finnissy wrote: “I have slightly corrected your programme attributions. Richard Rodney Bennett gave me the melody of Please Pay Some Attention To Me; he had been given it by a Swedish cabaret singer. It is (RRB told me) only attributed to George Gershwin – and does not appear in his work list.

“Jerome Kern wrote (rather than transcribed!) Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man (the original version of Show Boat had ‘dat’ instead of ’that’, but more recent editions have replaced this imitation-black-slang with ‘plain English’).”

In a pre-concert talk at 6.45pm, with a complimentary glass of wine or juice, Ian Pace will be in conversation with fellow pianist Kate Harrison-Ledger.

“We would like to discuss the Liszt and Gershwin transcriptions, and what they bring to the original compositions,” says Kate. “We will hopefully include a few anecdotes from Michael Finnissy, and, if time allows, invite questions from the audience.”

Tickets are on sale at and on the door.

Why playing P. G. Wodehouse is Plum job for Robert Daws in biographical play Wodehouse In Wonderland

Cocktail shaker: Robert Daws in a scene from William Humble’s play Wodehouse In Wonderland. Picture: Pamela Raith

REMEMBER the character of Tubby Glossop – “like a bulldog that’s just had its dinner snitched” – in the Fry and Laurie television series of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves & Wooster?

He was played by actor and crime writer Robert Daws, whose fascination with comic novelist, short-story writer, lyricist and playwright “Plum” Wodehouse has led him to star in the British premiere of William Humble’s play Wodehouse In Wonderland, presented by Cahoots Theatre Company on tour at York Theatre Royal from April 20 to 22.

“It all started with my own interest in Plum,” says Robert, 63. “When I was at RADA, I was given a copy of Right Ho, Jeeves by Tom Wilkinson, who was directing at the academy. I read it and loved it, little knowing that a few years later I’d be starring in a wonderful TV adaptation.

“I’ve since become a bit of an aficionado, and a few years ago I went to see Perfect Nonsense, a Jeeves and Wooster play in the West End starring Stephen Mangan and Matthew Macfadyen. Afterwards I was talking to some fellow Wodehouse enthusiasts, and it made me realise just how big an interest there in his work, but how little I knew about the man himself.”

Whereupon Robert read a few biographies and learned more of his extraordinary life, not least his early career as a Broadway lyricist. “I called my friend Bill Humble and said, ‘do you think there might be a play about this?’, and he replied that he’d just finished working on a screenplay about Wodehouse’s life, so I’d called at just the right time. That was around five years ago.”

Directed by Robin Herford, best known for his West End production and many tours of Woman In Black, Wodehouse In Wonderland is set in the writer’s New York State home in the 1950s. Plum, as he is known to family and friends, is working on Wooster’s latest adventure, only to be interrupted by a young would-be biographer, his adored wife, daughter Snorkles and his two Pekingese dogs.

Dancing feet: Robert Daws in a moment of joy in Wodehouse In Wonderland. Picture: Pamela Raith

Based on the life and writings of Wodehouse, Humble’s play finds Daws’s Wodehouse sharing stories of how Jeeves entered his life, how he became addicted to American soap operas and why he wrote books that were “like musical comedies without music”.

He sings songs composed by Broadway legends Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter and Ivor Novello with lyrics written by Wodehouse himself, and entertains the audience with characters such as gentlemen’s gentleman Wooster, Jeeves, Lord Emsworth, Gussie Fink-Norrie and Madeline Bassett.

Yet a darker story lies beneath the fizzing fun, when the biographer’s visit prompts Wodehouse to reflect on his past in Humble’s play in the second half. “By now in his 70s, Plum was living on Long Island in the 1950s because of the ‘great shaming’, as he called it, of his experiences as an internee during the war, when the Germans manipulated him into making what became known as the ‘Berlin broadcasts’, which was used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes,” says Robert.

“One of the themes of the play is his naivety, but he was fully investigated by MI6, who completely exonerated him of any treachery, but that report was kept from him all his life.

“The columnist Cassandra really put the knife into him in the Daily Mail, but in the 1950s he was a regular visitor to the USA, and who would he have lunch with but P. G. Wodehouse!”

Wodehouse wrote a diary of this period called Wodehouse In Wonderland. “The title is appropriate because that’s very much how he spent his life. He needed to create and live in this fantasy world and was never happier than when he was writing. Sadly, the diary was never found, and he never returned to England after the war,” says Robert.

At peace with a pipe: Robert Daws’s P.G. Wodehouse in Wodehouse In Wonderland. Picture: Pamela Raith

“Things conspired to work against Plum living in England for many years, so there are deeply psychological reasons behind that decision, but as he grew older, he was also incredibly reclusive, which, like most things goes back to his childhood, where his father was a judge in Hong Kong and his mother was a distant figure.

“It was the Victorian way of a certain class to send children away, so at the age of two he was shipped over to England to be looked after by his aunts. Fifteen of them. He didn’t see his parents for years. He was an ‘Empire orphan’.”

His elder brother went to up to Oxford University, and Plum, excelling at the classics and sport, gained a place too. “But his father said, ‘we can’t afford to send you there. You have to work’. He became a bank clerk in the City of London, which he hated,” says Robert.

“He would often be told off because he would write at night, which at all times is a tough gig, and he would turn up at work in his shirt and trousers over his pyjamas. But what he had was this extraordinary work ethic throughout his life. When he died alone in hospital on Long Island, he had his latest manuscript with him on his deathbed.  He was still working to the very end.”

On the lighter side, what of Plum’s prowess as a lyricist? “As a young man, he went to America to make his living writing anything anyone wanted him to write, including theatre reviews, and then worked with American writer Guy Bolton, a lifelong friend, as a lyricist, using the American vernacular on shows that absolutely took New York by storm,” says Robert.

“Andrew Lloyd Webber said of him, if Plum had never written any Jeeves and Wooster stories, he would still be considered one of the fathers of the American musical.

Robert Daws’s P. G. Wodehouse at work in his Long Island home in New York State. Picture: Pamela Raith

“He had the extraordinarily good fortune to work with Jerome Kern and write with Cole Porter, both Gershwins and Oscar Peterson too. I always think it’s quite strange that this man we now associate with such quintessentially English characters was in those days better known for his work on Broadway.

“So I perform some of these songs during the show and I’m really enjoying the chance to sing again. I used to do a lot of musicals when I was starting out, and even won a musical award at RADA, though I soon realised my dancing skills weren’t up to it!”

Playing Wodehouse is very much Robert’s “take on him, rather than an impersonation”. “When you’re playing a character people know, like Churchill for example, people know what they looked and sounded like, so there’s a certain expectation, but with Wodehouse that isn’t the case,” he reasons of a challenge he describes as a labour of love, where he has “become inordinately fond of Plum”.

“There isn’t actually much footage of him, and people always said that in reality he was a very reticent and shy figure. Despite creating these extraordinary, larger-than-life characters, he didn’t really socialise and generally liked to disappear into his imagination. So to portray him as he was would not necessarily work. I’ve realised I need to let the words and music speak for themselves, in order to give a more rounded portrayal of the man himself.

“What runs throughout the story is how people were amazed by his benign nature, his sweetness of nature, which wasn’t fake, and how he had a childlike outlook on life.”

Wodehouse In Wonderland paints a fuller picture of the writer at work. “George Orwell, an unlikely friend but a friend nonetheless, said of him, ‘people are envious of you because you live in this beautiful bubble where you get up in the morning, have breakfast, write in the morning, take the dogs for a walk, back home in time for a drink with wife Ethel, and then work in the evening,” says Robert. “But that’s one of the reasons he was so prolific, wanting to be left alone to write.

Plum job: Wodehouse aficianado Robert Daws playing P. G. Wodehouse. Picture: Pamela Raith

“Occasionally you bump into people who say, ‘oh, he just wrote about toffs and we have enough of them already’, but to some extent his world was just as fantastical as Terry Pratchett’s world.

“In India, where I hope to take the show, he is so popular as a writer who’s considered to be subversive, because his characters are to be laughed at, not with. Just look at what he’s commenting on underneath the top layer of wit because, in a way, he was an outcast from that charmed circle.”

As he prepares for the “big treat” of playing York Theatre Royal for the first time, Robert’s thoughts return to playing Wodehouse’s Tubby Glossop in four TV series of Jeeves & Wooster from 1990 to 1993. “It’s one of those moments in your career where you think, ‘oh, I’m so glad that happened’. The most overwhelming feeling is that fate worked to advantage,” he says.

“I’d read the books since my 20s, and I was the fourth person to be cast. I was so happy! It was a wonderful four years, with Clive Exton [the series creator and writer] even sticking Tubby into stories that he wasn’t in originally.

“Over the years. I’ve worked with four actors who’ve played Bertie Wooster: Ian Carmichael, Richard Briers, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Mangan.”

Now he is playing the Wooster source, P. G. Wodehouse.

Robert Daws in Wodehouse In Wonderland, York Theatre Royal, April 20 to 22, 7.30pm plus 2.30pm Saturday matinee. Box office: 01904 623568 or

Robert Daws raises a glass to his role as P. G. Wodehouse in Wodehouse In Wonderland

Did you know?

ROBERT Daws is the author of the best-selling Rock detective novels set in Gibraltar and Spain. He co-presents the popular crime fiction podcast Partners In Crime.

“Writing uses a lot of the same creative muscles that you use as an actor,” he says. “Early in my career I spent five years at Theatre Royal Stratford East, where we did a lot of different plays and variety nights, including lots of improvisation. This has stood me in good stead as a writer, because there’s an awful lot of improvisation involved.

“Certainly, all the work I’ve done over the years creating characters has been really helpful as well. I suppose in a way my writing has become my own little wonderland.”

Did you know too?

DIRECTOR Robin Herford and actor Robert Daws have known each other for many years. Robin first directed Robert as Dr Watson in The Secret Of Sherlock Holmes at the Duchess Theatre, London, and latterly when he played the lead in a national tour of Alan Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table. A shared passion for P. G. Wodehouse makes Wodehouse In Wonderland an irresistible project for them both.