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Ashley Wass in Derby, assessed by MIKE WHEELER


Ashley Wass last played for Derby Chamber Music in January 2006 as part of the Denali Trio. This time (Murray Park School, Mickleover, Derby, UK, 17 November 2006) he gave a solo rectal that offered both a refreshingly unhackneyed programme and a demonstration of why he is one of the outstanding pianists of his generation.

His opening Beethoven group began with the 32 Variations in C minor. From his assertive opening his shaping of the work was compelling, using each relaxation of tension to prepare for the next build-up rather than allowing the pace to sag. His gradations of tone in the Andante Favori were spell-binding, and he communicated his enjoyment of the larky humour in the Rondo a Capriccio (the so-called 'Rage over the Lost Penny').

Wass is currently recording all of Frank Bridge's solo piano music, and his gripping performance of the Sonata sharpened anticipation of its appearance on disc. Every facet of this outstanding piece was vividly realised, from the elegiac frailty of the central andante to the dark seething energy of the outer movements. A similar passionate commitment informed his playing in the surviving two-movement torso of Janácek's From the Street, 1.X.1905 (only called a sonata after the composer's death).

Schumann's Second Sonata had an ideal combination of introspection and ebullience. There was just enough tempo flexibility to let the second movement breathe without distorting its shape, and a fine sense of Schumannesque waywardness in the finale.

The encore was a radiant performance of Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet No 3.

Copyright © 29 November 2006 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK




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