Warren Mailley Smith's Mostly Romantic Piano Recital

This was our second piano recital within the week and the contrast in the two pianists' approach to their instrument was widely different. In the opening Fantasy by Chopin, Warren Mailley Smith curled his body forward and caressed the keys of the piano, totally engaged in communicating the feeling in the music. At age 32, he is one of England's outstanding pianists of his generation. He made his solo Carnegie Hall debut in April, 2008. His Wigmore Hall recital, for a capacity audience, was critically acclaimed. He has performed at United Kingdom festivals, music societies, universities and as a soloist in concert with several symphony orchestras. During this, his first visit to Tidewater, he gave several performances during his brief visit. We heard him at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Virginia Beach on Sunday, March 8, 2009.

His specialty is the Romantic period piano masterworks. The opening Chopin piece was followed by Sonata in F, K 332 by Mozart. The dramatic lilt and excitement of the piece reminds us of Mozart operas yet to be written. I especially enjoyed the Grieg Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. It opens with a happy dance in the lower keys that ring out joy. This is followed by a dirge-like slow section and then returns to the happy dance. The dynamics are of great contrast.

Playing the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata with its slow, sensuous opening, Mr. Smith created soft beauty in the first movement. The richness of sound builds. In the short, second movement, Mozartian in feeling, the pianist's body bounces as he delivers the rich, full chords. We are reminded that the piano is a percussion instrument as he launches in the mad drive of powerful, fast playing that glitters with an exciting hard edge. The playing is expressive and accurate.

Mr. Smith's playing was brilliant in Un suspiro by Franz Liszt. He spoke with us about including Rondo No. 2, one of four early works by a sixteen year old composer who planned to use this showy, difficult piece in his concert career. As it turned out, Chopin found the salon much more to his liking than the concert stage. Ballade No. 1 in G minor with its beautiful melody presents a challenge to the performer. It is lengthy and had a warm glow as unfolded by Mr. Smith. The Waltz in E minor, also by a young Chopin, was played. For an encore we heard more Chopin - Souvenir de Paganinni, a sweet, little tune embellished by runs. It was a consummate performance by a friendly, relaxed, emotionally expressive pianist. I look forward to hearing him again.

Please note: if you were there, your program is only a loose guide to what was played and the order in which it was played.


Warren Mailley-Smith
Prince of Peace Lutheran Church
March 11, 2012
Review by John Campbell

Warren Mailley-Smith played an exquisite program of Romantic piano music to a very enthusiastic audience on Sunday evening. As part of his US tour the Londoner played two local concerts, the first at Greenacres Presbyterian Church in Portsmouth earlier in the day and the one we attended at 7 o'clock. There was no list of pieces in the handout about Mailley-Smith's career and training. Instead the pianist gave spoken introductions to each piece as the program unfolded.

Hearing the Beethoven Pathétique Sonata Op. 13 followed by Schubert's impromptu No. 3, written some thirty years later, was instructive. This Beethoven sonata is one of a half-dozen that has achieved instant recognition. The opening chords of the autocratic first movement are dramatic but there is a softer, romantic, second voice that gets up-ended by the obstreperous one over and over. The similarity I hear to the Schubert is in the second movement which Glenn Gould described as “a tranquil, modestly embellished adagio.” It was at this point in the concert that I realized that the pianist had completely merged into a world created by the music he played and brought the audience along with him. Beethoven's restraint wavers but here, the lovely, caressing sound wins out. The third, Rondo, movement is a perky dance that Gould describes thus: “that angular, two part counterpoint [which] has always seemed to me to belong in some other work...amiable Rondo scarcely pulls its own weight.” The finale is a virtual tantrum. (Glenn Gould Reader, Tim Page, editor).

Of the Schubert, Mr. Mailley-Smith said that Impromptu No. 3, D 946 is as close as you can get to singing on a piano. The right-hand little finger plays the figure that is the singer's melody and the left provides a quite melodic accompaniment that is sometimes a deep, deep rumble of sound.

Liszt wrote piano paraphrases of seven Verdi operas. We heard a circa 1859 pop arrangement of the famous quartet from Rigoletto for solo piano. The familiar tune is woven into a dramatic Liszt piece with showy runs capped by a little note after a pause. You get the feeling that Mr. Mailley-Smith is relaxed, no matter how challenging the notes he plays are. There are passages of such speed and dynamic power that one wonders how it is possible to play them at all.

For the remainder of the announced fifty-five minute program we were treated to music of Chopin (1810-1849) who grew-up in Poland and was educated there. The E minor Waltz from 1830 was written before he emigrated to Paris (his father was French, his mother Polish) where he lived with George Sand, the female writer. The Victorian notion of Chopin as a consumptive, drawing room balladeer of the keyboard has mostly been overturned, though as the waltz was played it was easy to imagine a young couple ice-skating in a seamless unison, accelerating just because they can into a spectacular ending.

Mr. Mailley-Smith introduced Berceuse in D flat Major, Op. 57 as a lullaby with a hypnotic rhythm in the left hand contrasting with the sparkling tune in the right hand which seems to march through the tune to the high treble keys again and again.

The Heroic Polonaise No. 6 in A flat Op. 53 is all steel and glamor. It has a raw, nationalistic sound. Think of Lipizzaner stallions being ridden in a parade of aristocrats in old European military high fashion.

The finale was Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31 (1837) with a repeat chord that creates a sense of mystery. The physical effort at the keyboard has the pianist's body actually bouncing on the bench in the most exciting passages. A sweet, warm tune emerges after the storm of notes. It is as if the previous section was to birth spring and now the daisies are opening to the sun. The pastoral energy will return but there is a new intensity in the contrasting voice. The grand conclusion is coming and the mysterious notes like magic return – the beginning of creative madness breaking free.

Mr. Mailley-Smith returned for two bows and spent an hour autographing audience's CDs bought at the concert and engaging in conversation. We learned that building a career as a concert pianist is tough, especially in London where there are so many musicians. Mr. Mailley-Smith has worked with a teacher to learn how to relax his muscles as he performs. He is articulate, personable and down-to-earth, just a regular fellow with enormous talent.

The program sheet mentions that he has performed by invitation for the British Royal Family more than thirty times. In conversation he explained that while a student at the Royal College of Music whose Patron is Queen Elizabeth and whose President is the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles), he was asked with two hours’ notice to perform for the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace. Another student had backed-out. Since then he has often been invited back. On an average day he practices at least five hours, though learning a new piece on short notice may require ten. The wife of this tall, well-built blond has a career as a singer. They do not have children and plan someday to attempt performing together. This was the second time we have heard him at Prince of Peace and look forward to a return visit whenever he comes this way.

Back to Warren Mailley Smith