Seaside festivals, or those with sharp ears behind the planning, can be a showcase for rising talent. Thomas Kelly was a prize winner in the Leeds international piano competition 2021. Still only 23, this British player gave an exceptional recital at the Deal Music and Arts festival, an annual July fortnight rich with high-quality music making. It was the kind of day that used to be called hot. Unfazed, Kelly tackled the enormous, so-called “Eroica” Variations – strictly, Beethoven’s Variations and Fugue Op 35 – with imagination and pinpoint accuracy. The unusual choice of Medtner’s Sonata Reminiscenza, Op 38 No 1, pensive and lyrical, made programming sense when you remember that the Russian composer revered Beethoven, and like his hero built his music organically out of tiny ideas.
Kelly finished with Stravinsky’s The Firebird in the wild transcription by Guido Agosti. It demands outrageous virtuosity, hands racing up and down the keyboard, in crashing glory or pianissimo slides. Kelly, in demeanour, was a model of calm. All the razzle dazzle came in the finger work. His teacher was the quietly admired and formidable pianist Andrew Ball, who died earlier this month. How proud Ball would have been to hear his brilliant pupil. Watch for the name.
Thomas Kelly ★★★★★