Brilliant violin and piano recital from Blythe Press and Richard Mapp

Music by Bach, Brahms, Chausson, Bowater and Ravel

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 16 November 2011, 12.15pm

Though it has become conventional not to perform individual movements of extended works of music, it often works quite well. This admirable recital did that very successfully, with the first movement – the Adagio – from Bach’s solo Violin Sonata No 1 in G minor, and again with the first two movements – Allegro and Adagio – from Brahms’s Third Violin Sonata. Only those quite familiar with the works would have felt a little unfulfilled when the music failed to continue as expected.

The compensation was the singularly thoughtful and musically sensitive performances from the young Blythe Press and accompanist Richard Mapp. Press is only 22, grew up in the Kapiti area, began studies at Victoria University but, getting a scholarship to study in Graz, Austria, graduated there earlier this year with a master’s degree with distinction. There he has distinguished himself in European competitions and as soloist with the Styrian Youth Orchestra. He toured New Zealand last year with the Cook Strait Trio (see the review in Middle C of 22 August 2010), and also played for the NZSO on their European tour.

The first movement of Bach’s first solo violin sonata (played without the score) was both an intelligent and imaginative move, for it made the audience attend to the careful and painstaking approach that guided his performance; it was unhurried, with slightly prolonged pauses between phrases, that put his stamp on the music’s profound meditative character. It stood on its own with no hint of self-indulgence.

The two movements of Brahms’s last violin sonata were equally impressive. The first might be marked Allegro but Press captured the pervasive feeling of calm and deliberation; with the piano lid on the long stick, which can allow an accompaniment to dominate the textures, Mapp maintained the pace and dynamic levels that the violin adopted: the two were in perfect sympathy, especially arresting in the more animated central section. The Adagio presented Press with the chance to revel in the beautiful warmth of his instrument, expressing a world-weary spirit with sensitivity.

Perhaps the centre-piece was Chausson’s lovely Poème, which is usually heard in full orchestral dress where it is easier to envelope it in a romantic and impressionist spirit. The two players handled it with a profound familiarity and confidence and with a deep affection, all the decorative features appearing intrinsic rather than pasted on merely for display.

Helen Bowater’s piece for solo violin may have been chosen to complement Ravel’s Tsigane, for Lautari denotes a class of Romanian gypsy musicians. I had not heard it before and was attracted both by its idiom, clearly derived from Eastern European folk music, and the confident personal touches that placed it pretty firmly in today’s musical context, though not in a vein given over to excessive experimental devices and gestures. Nevertheless, its writing (he played with the score before him) clearly presented challenges that Press overcame effortlessly.

It was a nice prelude to the Ravel in which the violin plays a long, unaccompanied, flamboyant cadenza. The Liszt of the Hungarian Rhapsodies is never far away, as the technical difficulties present the violin with comparable terrors. Press dealt with its two-handed pizzicato dashes and its full repertoire of impossibilities, never losing sight of the music itself which is not merely flashy virtuosity.

The recital was essential St Andrew’s stuff, offering the audience a chance to hear a young prodigy of whom we’ll hear much more.


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