Sunday, 27 October 2013

Recital: Haydn, Brahms, Rachmaninov, Fitkin piano works

Steinway Hall
23 October 2013

The Rach Bach partita transcription, played by Yoshio Hamano at this concert. 
The rest of the concert is also available from YouTube. From here.

Interesting recital bookended by classical and modern nearly-mechanical pianism, with a more expressive middle.

The small recital room in Steinway Hall – as with the equivalent in Chappell of Bond Street – ought to present a challenge to programming. Piano works intended for large concert halls are less suitable here.

For his selection, Yoshio Hamano chose promisingly intimate works by Haydn, Brahms and Bach/Rachmaninov though bucked the trend with what sounded like louder works by Graham Fitkin, a contemporary composer new to me.

Pellucid is the word for the performance of Haydn’s Andante and Variations, which was also, to my surprise, the work I enjoyed most here. I suppose this is the standard way of performing Haydn’s piano works, of making them exercises in controlled, abstract pianism derived from Glenn Gould. No doubt this misses the drama of this composer, but in any case the result was extremely charming.

Bach’s third solo violin partita, as adapted by Rachmaninov, is a curiosity. The most pressing question is why bother? The solo piano repertoire is vast; that of the violin much smaller; and if you want transcribed Bach in a romantic idiom, doesn’t Stokowski do a better job?

Perhaps Hamano wanted some baroque music, and it is perhaps more honest to play a Rach Bach than to pretend the German wrote for a piano. The performance was good, though it didn’t erase my recent memory of a performance of the original.

Between these relatively lightweight works came Brahms’ much more substantial Fantasien Op116. This ought to have been the recital’s centre of gravity but it didn't quite work. As I’m not fond of Brahms’ piano music (yet), I couldn’t say if this was inherent in the music, or a consequence of the performance.

Finally, two works by Fitkin, both in a post-minimalist idiom. From Yellow to Yellow is the shorter and more introspective, while Frenetic basically describes itself, though there are passages of subdued come-down. The latter, in particular, seemed incredibly demanding for the performer, but turned him into a machine, which is neither big nor clever. Both pieces were forgettable.

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