Sonata in B minor, (Hob. XVI:32, Haydn), Sonata No 2, Op 35 (Chopin), Ballade No 2 in B minor (Lizst)
Buz Bryant-Greene (piano)
St Andrew’s on The Terrace
Wednesday 10 March 2010
I last heard Buz Bryant-Greene in a masterclass conducted by Piers Lane at the 2009 Adam Chamber Music Festival in Nelson.
I suspect he was not very comfortable there even though no one could have been more genial and sympathetic than Lane. So I was pleased to have this chance to hear him again, a young pianist from Nelson who has clearly made something of an impression as a performer around New Zealand and internationally.
It was an interesting programme, though some would call it unadventurous; it is often nice to enjoy a concert that doesn’t include new or difficult music that might be good for us, but pleases few.
Life for 98% of the population of Austria in the 1780s was no bed of roses, but you’d never know it from the music of Haydn or Mozart. Thus it has lived for over two centuries and is bound to survive another two, if the world lasts that long.
The Sonata in B minor, one of the few in a minor key, suggests a serious mind but one intent on making beautiful things. Buz Bryant-Greene’s playing was a delight and his hands fairly danced over the keys, creating the liveliest rhythms, adorned with clean, accurate and spirited ornaments with little use of the pedal, and fluent runs that lifted the spirit. The changes of dynamics between the exposition and the development and elsewhere were particularly eloquent, as were the subtle changes from detached to more legato playing.
There was a limpid charm in the Menuet, with its surprising staccato centre, and a wee stumble; then flighty filigree and modestly fugal passages in the Finale which may well have altered many people’s view of Haydn’s piano sonatas.
The pianist’s note about Chopin’s second piano sonata (in B flat minor) referred to the musical pedants’ view of it as lacking coherence. It is only to the Marche funèbre to which that might perhaps apply. Perhaps through over-familiarty, it does seem to go on a bit.
It was a performance that was authoritative and carefully thought out, the spacious opening done lightly the first time, more physical when the ideas were repeated, with more marked rubato. He knew just how and when to effect gradual dynamic changes.
The following Scherzo certainly sounded as if from the same inspirational source as the first movement, rich in tonal and rhythmic variety; perhaps the Piu Lento section began with too emphatic a note, but it led to a trio-like section that suggested a full slow movement.
The slow movement is of course the funeral march. The march was on the brisk side which seemed to make it somewhat too casual, not a particularly deeply felt loss; perhaps the pianist saw it as a happy vision of the hereafter.
The whirlwind Finale was truly a marvel of speed and fluency, flawless.
I heard Liszt’s Second Ballade (also in B minor) played bravely by the young Sam Jury in a student recital last year at St Andrew’s and it appeared, just to stay with the New Zealand context, in the first volume of the CD remasterng of Richard Farrell’s complete recordings last year. I remark this because the piece has rather fallen out of favour; yet it was familiar half a century ago. I recently came across a notebook in which I used to record all the music I was discovering as a teenager, mostly on radio, and there it was.
Bryant-Greene created a huge bed of dense bass sounds lit suddenly by a couple of bars of sunny music. It is of course a narrative, to be compared with his orchestral symphonic poems and though its form might be criticized by pedants, it’s an absorbing, vibrant composition that holds the attention, especially in the hands of this pianist. Specially charming was the central love music (it tells the Hero and Leander story) where the hands constantly cross each other gracefully, a visual, as well as auditory, simulation of love-making.
There was virtuosity to spare, as well as a coherent musical view of the whole rambling piece. Another extremely satisfying concert in this rewarding series that doubles the amount of classical music in this festival.