Wednesday, 20 August 2008

The Chetham's Recitals 2007: Part 2

19 August, 7.00 pm

The English pianist Bernard Roberts strikes one as a friendly, grandfatherly figure (with a tonsure that recalls Franciscan monks of old), and his playing conforms to that congenial image – sincere, hale and hearty, not always note-perfect but ultimately honest-to-goodness musicianship.

In Beethoven’s seventh Sonata in D major (Op.10 No.3), Roberts probed and unearthed the true essence of early Beethoven – emotional turmoil, unease and agitation alternating with moments of calm and repose. The slow movement unfolded like a sermon (rather appropriately) and revealed a darkness of mood that might have influenced Schubert’s Lieder. The jocular Minuet and final Rondo were full of earthy Haydnesque humour, the latter obsessed with a three-note motif, a device that would be applied with poignant effect in Beethoven’s final string quartet. The composer’s humanity again shone through in Roberts’ reading, and one would sooner hear him in this music than the many accurate young pianists who will inevitably speed through it aimlessly.

The second half of the recital was devoted to Schubert’s Three Piano Pieces D.946, sometimes referred to as Impromptus. This is the third time I am hearing these works in the space of a year, the first two being played by a 19 and 16-year-old respectively. All have their merits, but Roberts’ experience counts for everything as he made most of the music’s dynamic shifts - from sunshine to dark clouds and back again, much like the Manchester summer sky. The second piece, for example, alternated between an achingly-beautiful lied-like lyricism and throes of discomfiting gestures. And when one expects a return to the former, a completely new theme is thrown in to complicate matters. For Schubert, there’s no silver lining without dark clouds.

Roberts fully understands what made Schubert tick, his hopes and disappointments, joys and failings. The encore, Schubert’s Moment Musicaux No.2, with its chorale-like subject (Schubert was a choirboy), completed the picture.

19 August, 8.30 pm

Margaret Fingerhut was the eleventh-hour replacement for the indisposed (or unready?) Yonty Solomon. One would have relished the latter’s delicious offering of Schumann’s Kreisleriana and Chopin’s Third Sonata, but is still grateful for the former’s brave and selfless endeavour of driving up from London and performing despite a persistent and hacking cough.

Fingerhut’s recital programme was inspired by dance, and she spoke briefly about each work before playing. Her Bach Partita No.2 in C minor was unfussy, competent but not without glitches. Omitting repeats in each of the movements was probably a good thing as she seemed ill at ease in the slower dances, with hiccups in the flowing line of the Allemande. Ironically, the fast pieces such as the latter part of the Overture, Rondeaux and Capriccio fared much better.

Next up was Chopin’s weighty Polonaise in F sharp minor Op.44, a rollicking piece that was brought out with much athleticism. The expressive mazurka-like middle section in the major key – a wellspring of song-like charm - was the best part and it was a pity it had to end. The work closed gainfully with a fistful of missed notes in the coda.

The music of Spain – Albeniz’s Cordoba and Seguidilla – was arguably the highlight of the recital. Fingerhut’s dark hued nocturne was evocative and seductive, which gave way to a lively danza, a foretelling of Mompou’s poignant Songs and Dances. The faster piece, with its flourish of ascending chords, was simply brilliant.

Ravel’s La Valse in its punishing solo version completed this taxing programme (for the pianist, less so for the audience), which flew at a frenetic pace from its outset. To maintain this momentum, risks galore were taken and there were inevitable dropped notes. Despite all, voices emerged from some phantom third and fourth hand, which Fingerhut cunningly managed to throw into the fray, bringing her adventure to a thrilling conclusion. Her encore: a wistful dance in three-quarter time by Carlos Guastavino. Just sublime.

No comments: