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WANDA JEZIORSKA finds food for thought
in Mishka Momen's latest recital


Within the excellent series of lunch-time concerts organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe this summer at St James' Piccadilly in London, the recital given by sixteen-year-old Mishka Momen [1 August 2008] stands out not only because of the quality of the playing, but also by her bold approach to programming, which allowed us to enjoy three sharply contrasting styles of music within the all-too-short period of an hour.

The gigantic leap from baroque to classical to Romanticism and French impressionism, a test for any performer, was taken by this young pianist with confidence and understanding, displaying a well-developed control of colour, rhythm, articulation and, where needed, virtuosity. Her programme consisted of a deeply felt and well-judged Bach Sinfonia No 9 in F minor, an elegantly played Beethoven Sonata Op 10 No 2, followed by his somewhat puzzling, characteristic Rondo capriccio Op 129, known as 'Rage over a Lost Penny' (written despite its late opus number around the same time as the Sonata) which she tackled with wit and humour. Two Debussy Études -- 'pour les quartes' and 'pour les octaves' -- revealed a nascent virtuosity in Mishka's playing in their clarity and control of speed, while L'Isle Joyeuse, which ended the programme, was played with delightful ease, good sense of detail and contrast of mood and colour, as was her polished account of Chopin's E minor Étude from Op 10 by way of encore.

Mishka Momen
Mishka Momen

Subsequently I was able to speak to the young artist herself and briefly question her on how she approaches the music and style of the three composers chosen for her recital. She sent me a short summary of our talk afterwards from which I would like to quote as it throws a light on how clear her musical intentions are and how much thought and understanding she has already given to this music, known to many generations before her, yet forever fresh and accessible to a young mind probing anew inner musical truths. Mishka had the following to say: 'How can some people think that Bach is boring? ... he is in fact one of our most expressive composers, and achieves this through the architecture of the counterpoint and the individually expressive nature of each voice. You ask how I approach Bach in my practice? I try to analyse it by taking apart each voice and then putting two or three at a time together so as to experiment with the hierarchy of all the different parts'.

We then talked about the Beethoven Sonata and how one shouldn't try to smooth over the extreme contrasts, but rather bring them out and thereby understand the volatile nature of the composition. Also, that the dynamic contrasts should not only be evident but should have an emotional meaning attached to them (for example the forte at the end of the first movement's exposition and the piano following it in the opening bars of the development are an integral part of the witty character of the sonata). Similarly in the two études: 'While Debussy is an impressionist composer, one shouldn't over-lyricise, as he often writes in very structured blocks, and that we shouldn't make allowances for our own temptation to 'change' expression markings. Often he is observing from a distance rather than getting involved directly in the action, and we shouldn't blur the distinction between the two.'

Many of us, I for one, have followed Mishka's pianistic development with interest even before she reached her 'teens. Now at sixteen, she has reached a crucial stage of growth as a musician and performer. As she gains further insight into the intellectual and emotional depths of the unique keyboard repertoire of the last three centuries, her mastery of the instrument, which grows day by day, will serve her in good stead in her search for individual expression as well as for that intuitive unity of intention between composer and performer which is a mark of great pianism.

Copyright © 19 August 2008 Wanda Jeziorska, London UK




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