Concert review: A night with David Helfgott

On 4 March 2017, we had the very interesting experience of a night with David Helfgott at the Sir Stamford Hotel. It was arranged as a sort of cocktail party with music, where we had canap├ęs and drinks before the first part of the concert, more at the interval, and wine and cheese after. The room was a conference or event room of the hotel, rather than a formal concert setting.

I was curious of course. The movie ‘Shine’ was extraordinary, both for the story it told and the performances of the actors in it. I’d heard that Helfgott made noises during the performance, but in fact, he speaks, talks, hums along and mumbles during all of the music. Yet the piano playing is beautiful and accomplished. I’d read a terrible review from over a decade ago that said that the music could lack depth and rhythm, and possibly tried to please the audience too much.

I detected that the playing was perhaps rushed (which was confirmed at interval when he’d finished earlier than expected) and that parts were a bit… flighty. And yet that seemed appropriate enough for most to the music, such as Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu, and really, once we’d all settled in, I thought the playing was wonderful. Liszt was also heavily featured along with Chopin, along with Lecuno’s Malaguena, Addinsell’s Warsaw Concerto and Katchaturian’s Sabre Dance. The Steinway was beautiful, though I’m not sure whether the acoustics in the room did him justice.

The experience was as much theatre as concert. Because Helfgott talked, I noticed that some audience members felt they could chat among themselves. Others were using their iPhones to video the performance, and there was a large screen set up in one corner, which we couldn’t see where we were, where a camera was trained on his fingers. In a shimmering silk top, Helfgott was a completely unique presence, expressing delight to meet people and perform. And it was as much an event as theatre, as we had a very pleasant time at this well-organised event with tasty treats and delicious drinks. So, yes, a memorable evening.

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