Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Chetham's Recitals 2007: Part 1

Here are my reviews of the piano recitals given by the faculty of Chetham's Summer School and Festival for Pianists 2007.
These first appeared on the pages of The Flying Inkpot.
18 August, 7.30 pm
Iain Colquhoun (dedicatee of the Mozart-Stevenson Romance),
Martino Tirimo & Ronald Stevenson

The first music to be heard in concert at Chetham’s was also the most heart-rending, the World Premiere of the Romance from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor (K.466) in a 2002 transcription by Ronald Stevenson, a “living legend” among British composers. The timing could not have been more apt, as the day also marked the 55th wedding anniversary of Ronald and Marjorie Stevenson.

The transcription, one very faithful to the original, was highly effective, with the piano solo and orchestral parts blending quite imperceptibly on the keyboard. From its tender opening through the turbulent central G minor episode, the British-Cypriot pianist Martino Tirimo was an ever-sympathetic guide. While not the rich, bass-heavy take that characterised Busoni’s transcription of the slow movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.9, less proved to be more in this case.

The rest of the recital featured two Beethoven sonatas, one each from his “Middle” and “Late” periods. The earlier Sonata in G major (Op.31 No.1) opened with a lightness that suggested one treading on eggshells but soon became possessed with typical Beethovenian brio and vigour. The 2nd movement’s theme and variations, the heartbeat of the work, traversed a diverse range of colours before rounding off with the niceties of the pastoral Rondo - and a final tantrum.

Even better was the Sonata in E major (Op.109), where serenity and angst, nostalgia and a vision into the future come into a heady confluence. Beethoven throwing off the shackles of the Classical era was no better illustrated in the brief but violent 2nd movement. It was in the final Theme and Variations where Tirimo’s vivid portrayal of Beethoven’s humanity came through the strongest. The transformation of the chorale theme, culminating in an ear-shattering and trill-laden climax (surely a musical representation of tinnitus and ultimately deafness), and its eventual re-emergence was powerful to say the least.

What more could be said after this? The encore, a little Schubert Waltz in B major, lovingly crafted, was somewhat of an anticlimax.

18 August, 9.00 pm

Frenchman Philippe Cassard was the pianist who performed Debussy’s complete piano works over four recitals in a single day at the Esplanade Recital Studio in 2003.

His recital at Chet’s began with some steroid-infused Schubert. A very emphatic and loud long-held G minor octave opened the first Impromptu from the Op.90 set. This set the general tone for the four lyrical pieces that followed. Gone were the love-sick and somewhat effete portraits conjured from his Lieder, and in its place a muscular, athletic Franz for whom no unrequited love or heartbreak could unfaze. There were lyrical moments, as in the familiar G flat and A flat major pieces, but these were overshadowed by the triple-fortes that emphasised each climax. Surely it was Schubert’s vulnerability rather than his machismo that made him such an endearing figure.

Cassard’s outsized unhyphenated Schubert only served to diminish the virtuosic effect of the two Schubert-Liszt transcriptions that followed. Despite Liebesbotschaft sounded busy thanks to Liszt’s additions, the melodic line shone through with much clarity. The octave forest that is the Erlkönig proved a fearsome challenge, but Cassard forded the hurdles manfully in this wild chase that ended with abrupt chords signifying death.

The obligatory Debussy pieces were all water-inspired, beginning with the imposing Le cathedrale engloutie (from Préludes Book 1). The fluid realm occupied by Ondine (Préludes Book 2) and Poissons d’or (Images Book 2) was overwhelming, not so much by sunlight shimmering radiantly on the surface of water but rather by a tropical deluge. As expected, the happy islanders of L’Isle joyeuse were swept away by a tsunami of sound and fury.

Cassard’s encore, however, yielded the most sublime moments of his recital. Debussy’s The Little Shepherd (Children’s Corner Suite) with its wistful syncopated melody (shared by the preceding work, helpfully pointed out by the pianist) was a joy to behold. Again, less became more.

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