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Sharona Joshua plays a copy of an early piano,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


This was Derby Chamber Music's first venture into the world of early pianos, and I hope it won't be the last. Sharona Joshua plays a copy, by Christopher Barlow, of a Viennese instrument by Johann Schantz from around 1795. Haydn spoke highly of Schantz's pianos, and if this one is typical, it's easy to hear why. It has a delightful tone -- pearly and translucent in the treble, with a clear, penetrating but not heavy bass.

I wish I could be as enthusiastic about Sharona Joshua's actual playing [Multi-Faith Centre, Derby University, UK, 16 February 2007]. When she began, with Mozart's powerfully tragic Adagio in B minor, K540, I thought we were in for a thoroughly gripping evening. The music's expressive power came across in an almost tangible way, the soft tone of the piano heightening the music's pathos. But with the Sonata in D, K576, a nagging feeling started to set in that all was not well. It was good that she was prepared to look beneath the music's apparently carefree surface and explore its more shadowy aspects. But her consistent focussing on the passing moment undermined any view of the music's overall shape, with phrases losing rhythmic definition.

The same was true in Haydn's E flat Sonata (Hoboken 52). There were good things here -- the splendidly sonorous opening, the characterful approach to passages of dialogue between the two hands, her remarkable way of holding the tension across Haydn's silent pauses. But, again, too much concentration on details, and consequent distortion of the basic tempo, left little sense of the music's forward momentum. This was particularly damaging in the finale, where the drive established in the repeated-note opening figure quickly evaporated.

Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata fared better. In the first movement Sharona Joshua's rubato was less pronounced though, again, she relaxed too much in the more lyrical passages of the finale, with rather disjointed results.

Significantly, the best performances of the evening, besides the Mozart Adagio, came in the sectional structure of Beethoven's Variations on 'Rule Britannia', and the encore, an improvisatory Rondo by C P E Bach.

Copyright © 20 February 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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