Music and Vision homepage Cadenza Programme Note Library - Programme Notes by Mike Wheeler


<<<  <<  -- 2 --  Bill Newman    MAGNIFICENT PERFORMANCE


Brahms' F minor Sonata is a youthful creation from a very different standpoint that breathes the desire for emotional stimulae and a technical mastery that immediately establishes its creator as a natural follow on to Beethoven. The scale is immense, its span so exacting that any weakening of the structure affects overall balance. Unfortunately, that happened in the opening movement through the omission of the first subject repeat. I thought back to the pianist Solomon who did exactly the same thing, but this places more emphasis now on the delicate traceries and meandering tendencies of the next movement. They were quite beautifully realised with such a volume of singing tone in the coda as to almost quieten criticism. The energetic Scherzo Allegro movement contained feelings of sheer diablerie, which I thought slightly overdone, but the short intermezzo brought us back on course. Best was Descharmes' impulse-sounding finale with its muted szforzando replies building up to a tremendous climax at the close, but was it necessary to press down so hard on the final chords to extract a more sustained fortissimo? I think not, but there was so much to enjoy. This was a young man's realization, but head and shoulders above it, some three years ago, came the Finn Risto Lauriala's magnificent account at St John's, Smiths Square -- quite the finest I have ever heard.

The Frenchman's Ravel Gaspard de la nuit had a naturalness of tempi and perfect evenness of phrasing, Ondine spiralling upwards then rippling downwards to find new visionary touches. A sheer profusion of colourings spread right across the instrument's dynamic range which eventually faded away at the close to leave listeners poised in readiness for the hypnotic episodes of Le Gibet with its half-shaded funeral bell tolling away clearly in the background. At its cessation Scarbo, the music's 'scelerat' scampers onto the scene to carry out his own brand of devilry, but once tensions have relaxed and philosophizing taken over with every note and phrase cleanly etched and intact, intended rubato slowings did not quite register any new reactions or changes of state. Somehow, it seemed that we had arrived at the work's climax momentarily too soon. Older generation pianists like Sequeira Costa, Claudio Arrau and Abbey Simon are more reflective, perhaps more meaningful but the young Wigmore Prize Winner Mei Yi Foo admitted to me that her final round performance was 'quite manic'; yet she was wonderfully poetic in a subsequent recital. Gaspard evokes such changing responses and Romain should have no problems in presenting a spell-binding performance next time round.

The late Frederic Rzewski, whose Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues (North American Ballads, 1980) was commissioned by Modern Music specialist Paul Jacobs, provided a rousing end to the recital. The rapid bass-register clusters that portray the relentless hammering noise made by rivets in a textile machine followed by Blues-tinged episodes, make for a chilling effect. Marc-André Hamelin's commercial recording of his music quickly became in vogue with a chain of pianists that now includes Descharmes. Despite the adulatory screams from the audience, I find the music beginning to pale after several hearings and would have preferred a rarity like Ibert's Histoires. But this does nothing to detract from the magnificent performance.

Copyright © 6 March 2007 Bill Newman, Edgware UK







 << M&V home       Ensemble home        Opera North >>


Classical Music Programme Notes for concerts and recordings, by Malcolm Miller