Jeremy Denk. Brahms: Six piano pieces; Liszt: Petrarch sonnet; Liszt: Dante sonata; Wagner/Liszt: Liebestod; Schumann: Davidbündlertänze.
Wigmore Hall, 7 November 2012
Naufal Mukumi. Beethoven: Sonata op81 “Les Adieux”; Chopin: Scherzo #2; Debussy: l’Isle joyeuse; Verdi/Liszt: Rigoletto paraphrase; Balakirev: Islamey.
Chappell of Bond Street, 8 November 2012
Balakirev's Islamey, played by Simon Barere.
Two recitals inadvertently suggest that attempts at poetry in music fail if they don't also hold together as music.
These were two contrasting programmes of music from essentially the nineteenth century mainstream piano tradition. Both were enjoyable, but flawed, and I think this has something to do with the intrinsic value of the pieces but perhaps more importantly the art of concert programming.
Denk’s recital stressed the wistful, overtly poetic side of the romantic repertoire, while Mukumi focussed more on the technically demanding aspects. Denk gave lengthy, barnstorming Paganini variations as an encore, perhaps to illustrate that his fingers muscles were not deficient.
Given this difference in approach from the pianists, it is perhaps not surprising that the second concert would be flawed; whereas I expected the first to be a complete success. But this was not the case.
The late Brahms works combine intense feeling with a muted, introspective style. But they were not best showcased at the beginning of a concert.
I generally find Schumann impenetrable rather than charming, and the extramusical crutches he uses don't help me. A suite of dances must first of all work as a musical unit, then it may be possible to understand the use of alter-egos Florestan, Eusebius and David's Band.
A great contrast was offered just a few hours later at the start of the second concert, with Beethoven's sonata emerging as a well-structured piece, indeed argument, for which the poetic movement titles were unecessary, though evocative. Here was a genuine musical equivalent to the strict forms of all the best poetry.
Likewise the Chopin and Debussy pieces seemed more effective in terms of emulating the experiences of reading (or hearing) poetry than anything in Denk's programme, with the exception of Liszt's Dante sonata.
On the other hand, in relegating bravura to an encore, Denk displayed greater self-confidence and confidence in his audience than Mukumi.
Perhaps Liszt could endow his Rigoletto pot-pouri with the peculiar combination of legato and savage drive that characterises Verdi, but in Mukumi's performance I was merely impressed with the pianist's dexterity. Likewise Islamey strikes me as the kind of showpiece that could come to life only under the very greatest pianists, such as Simon Barere.
I can't judge the quality of playing of either pianist, except to note that Mukumi is apparently still an undergraduate, which struck me as ludicrous. It certainly isn't his fault that some of his pieces were inanimate: where an initial spark of creative genius exisited, he was magnificent.