Ludwig Treviranus – Piano Recital at Expressions Upper Hutt’s Expressions

HAYDN – Piano Sonata in F Major Hob.XV!:23

PROKOFIEV – Three Movements from “Romeo and Juliet”

CHOPIN – Four Ballades

Ludwig Treviranus (piano)

Genesis Energy Theatre

Expressions Arts and Entertainment Centre, Upper Hutt

Sunday 1st August 2010

Upper Hutt-born pianist Ludwig Treviranus, back in New Zealand on a visit from his current study activities in the United States, gave a home-town recital on Sunday at the Expressions Centre, to the delight of a near-capacity audience. After completing earlier studies with Rae de Lisle in Auckland for a Masters Degree in piano performance he went to Florida to take up a Doctorate in piano with Read Gainsford at Florida State University. He’s been a finalist in various piano competitions recently, most notably in both Florida and Tenessee, the latter at the Memphis Beethoven Piano Sonata International Piano Competition. Presently he’s engaged along with his study, in doing an assistantship at the University playing for opera students, giving him, as he says, valuable practice and experience with singers, and widening his focus as a performing musician.

His programme, if standard recital fare for a pianist, provided plenty of scope for his mettle to be tested, both as an interpreter and a virtuoso. Each of the three works brought out significant things in his playing, and indicated that his was a talent with already strongly-etched characteristics, and the ability to communicate these to his audience. Two things I noticed in particular throughout the recital, one of them being his ability to colour the music’s textures at appropriate moments, making for some magically-conceived sequences in each of the works he played; while the other was what seemed like his innate sense of each piece’s shape, and (in the case of both the Haydn and Chopin works) a feeling for how the parts fitted together to make the whole structures seem coherent and well-proportioned.

One always wonders what to expect from young musicians in terms of the approach they might take to performing – whether they’ll take a full-blooded and impetuous “no-holds-barred” attitude, placing great store on the music’s emotional content and opportunities to express the same, or else adopt an overtly “correct” and literal approach, dotting and crossing every “i” and “t” and leaving no stone in the score unturned. Of course, things are seldom as cut-and-dried as such polarities suggest; and Ludwig Treviranus, while certainly not an impetuous, abandoned player, was also no literalist in a dry and correct sense. Occasionally I felt the need for bolder delineation of what he was doing, wanting the contrasts pointed a bit more cheekily in the finale of the Haydn, for example, as well as more adventurous rhythmic terracings in the third Chopin Ballade (that rocking rhythm didn’t for me quite draw the music along as I was hoping it would) – however, these comments are made in the context of many other aspects of his playing giving a good deal of pleasure.

Before playing each of the works on the programme, the pianist talked to his audience briefly about the music and his relationship with it – thus we learned that he felt very close to the slow movement of the Haydn Sonata, and was able to readily demonstrate this affinity with his long-breathed playing, limpid tones realising the music’s attractive melancholy. I liked also the first movement’s unhurried perkiness, the playing bright and sunny at the beginning, but capturing the different colourings of the harmonic shifts without making a meal of them – very unforced and natural-sounding. Only in the finale of the work did I think some of the humour’s earthiness underplayed in favour of urbanity – just as valid an approach, of course, if a tad less engaging.

It seemed from Treviranus’ playing of the Prokofiev “Romeo and Juliet” movements that the pianist knew the orchestral versions well, so colourful, detailed and richly-voiced was his playing of all three movements chosen. The opening Folksong was nicely terraced, bringing out the contrasting dynamics and layered lines in a way that readily suggesting spaces and movement; while the Young Juliet evoked a strong, healthy young girl, more vigorous and physical than elfin and quicksilver, making the contrasting episode of her romantic daydream all the more telling. I liked the way the pianist’s left hand brought out the ‘cello melody, phrasing the ascending theme with great tenderness. Finally, the well-known Montagues and Capulets had all the swagger, tension and clannish arrogance and bravado that one could have wished for, the pianist excitingly orchestrating the textures, and particularly enjoying the heavy brass! Again, the player wrought considerable magic via the music’s contrasting episodes, with the middle section almost wraith-like, the sounds very “interior” after the extroversion of the opening. Using his ear for colour and texture, Treviranus gave the descant melody in the right hand an almost touching quality, its poignancy thrown into bold relief by the return of the dance’s grim menace.

Merely the idea of all four of the Chopin Ballades being presented on the same programme felt like a real treat – and so it proved here. LudwigTreviranus prefaced his performance with a few words which emphasised Chopin’s storytelling abilities, despite the composer’s stated aversion to titles and to programme music. The pianist judged the opening of the first Ballade beautifully, dark and rich without being too portentous and laden, his hands sharing the melodic lines as the bass momentarily took the lead from the treble, digging into the notes as the music began to surge forward, then relaxing poetically for the introduction of the beautiful second subject. And if the piece’s penultimate frisson of excitement took a while to ignite at the gallop-away, the cumulative effect of the player’s committed energies brought a satisfying inevitability to those final avalanche-like chromatic flourishes.

Dispensing with applause between the pieces was a good idea, as the silences gave a “charged” quality to each transition from one piece to the next. I liked the hymn-like aspect Treviranus brought out in the second Ballade’s opening, and the urgency with which he plunged into the allegro, more organic than rhetorical – he kept the underlying pulse going throughout the piece to its advantage. Again, with the third Ballade, the pianist took a simple, direct line with the opening theme, though he treated us to a treasurable impulse of hushed delight at the very top of one of the phrases, just before the onset of the “rocking” rhythm which so dominates the work. With this I felt he didn’t “advance” the music sufficiently – I wanted a greater sense of growth, of inexorable momentum building up and leading towards that wonderful downward plunge into the swirling waters, out of which grows sufficient resolve and energy to re-establish the theme and conclude the piece. The fourth Ballade enchanted with its opening (a slight mis-hit at one point reminding us that this was a REAL performance), Treviranus capturing the wistful character of the theme to perfection, gathering purpose with each repetition and nicely setting filigree detail alongside simplicity of utterance. Perhaps the growing agitations needed a bit more volatility and temperament, though all was forgiven after the pianist had enchanted us with the opening’s beautiful reintroduction and its ghostly melismatic echo. And there was power and energy aplenty in evidence throughout the rest of the work’s eventful course, Treviranus’ playing bringing out that slightly “off-centre” quality to the music’s surgings leading us up to the final emphatic chords, and giving us a real physical sense of the distance traversed from the piece’s opening.

The home-town audience was treated to an encore featuring more Chopin, the young man plunging into the well-known and treacherously insistent C-sharp Minor Op.10 Etude, one which he would have played perfectly a hundred times previously instead of, as here, mis-hitting the final chord (his rueful look at the keyboard at that point was as treasurable as if he had played the notes perfectly!). It was of no matter – with this recital Ludwig Treviranus had already done himself, his audience and the music proud. One wishes him well.

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