Diverting recital by Liszt and Bartók specialist, Judit Gábos at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Judit Gábos (piano)

Liszt:  Un sospiro (No 3 of Three Concert Etudes, S 144)
     Hungarian Rhapsody No 5 in E minor, S 244/5  “Héroïde-Élégiaque”
     Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este from “
Années de pèlerinage III”, no 4, S 163
Légende II, St François de Paule marchant sur les flots
     Hungarian Rhapsody No 7 in D minor, S 244/7  
Bartók: Three Folksongs from Csík
     Allegro barbaro
     Romanian Folk Dances

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Thursday 13 September, 12:15 pm

The Thursday recital was by a visiting Hungarian pianist who was also to give a lunchtime concert in the Adam Concert Room at Victoria University on Friday and a second one there, with Jian Liu, playing piano duets, on Tuesday 18 September, 7 pm.

As in other recent weeks, there have been lunchtime recitals on both Wednesday and Thursday, evidently the result of demand for an appearance at St Andrew’s which increases year by year.

This one was a bit special.

Judit Gábos (quoting the programme notes) is piano professor and head of the music department of Eszterházy Károly University of Eger. In 2003, she received her DMA in piano performance from the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest and in 2012 completed her Doctorate also in piano performance from the Liszt Academy. She has performed throughout Europe and in both North and South America.

She spoke before playing each piece, in an informal, engaging, slightly impulsive way. Unfortunately, she spoke without a microphone and some of her words didn’t carry very well.

Though the programme leaflet might have been a little misleading in its lay-out, the programme wasn’t changed and the recital was a rewarding experience.

She opened with Un Sospiro, a particularly beguiling piece in which she handled the rolling arpeggios beneath the melody beautifully, with a sparkling treble line and brilliant embellishments.

She played two less familiar Hungarian Rhapsodies: Nos 5 and 7. No 5 starts in a somewhat indecisive, rhapsodic way, while its warmer melodies emerge after a minute or so, particularly the E major modulation in rolling, triplet quavers. Though Nos 2 and 6 were the first to make their impact on us in our teens (well?…), many others have won affection one by one. No 5 is a sombre (it’s subtitle is Héroïde-Élégiaque), but satisfying piece that Ms Gábos played exquisitely.

No 7 is no more familiar; it’s more rhapsodic, beginning with a sort of highly decorated processional, and suddenly breaks into a vigorous dance, akin to the spirit of No2, and it lightens up through sparkling, galloping passages. Though played most engagingly, it doesn’t register as a piece that’s simply waiting to become a much loved work.

Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este (The fountains at the Villa d’Este) is from Liszt’s Third Book of Années de pèlerinage which was published long after the first two books: the piece was written in 1877 and the collection published in 1883. It deserved its central place, in the middle of her Liszt selection; there was clear, sparkling water in the sunshine; Gábos drew the rhythms from the notes as if they were organic creatures, not overlooking its stunning virtuosity which, with Liszt, always seems to have a proper musical purpose.

Finally, the second Légende, from relatively late in Liszt’s life; both relate to a Saint Francis. The first was inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi, the second is St François de Paule marchant sur les flots. (St Francis of Paola walking on the waves). Those with a rich religious imagination would make more of it than I do, but as ‘just music’ which is the only proper way to assess music, it is warmly engaging, and Gábos’s reading did it justice, opening reticently, managing the break-neck speeds, first in the left and then the right hand; holding back so that the eventual miraculous happening, the Lento section, made its best impact.

Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, are fairly well known but I was not sure I’d heard the Allegro Barbaro before and didn’t know the Three Folksongs from Csík at all. The Csík folksongs is not a major work, but, compared with the Allegro Barbaro, not in such a tough and ‘barbaric’ idiom. The three are only around a minute each in length, but reveal a less familiar, genial spirit, in ever-changing rhythms. In her hands, they carried a very natural, idiomatic feeling.

Allegro Barbaro is just that: bearing little resemblance to any other European music. Though its basic rhythm and pattern of notes vary little through its some two minutes, its impact was more telling than anything else in the recital.

The Romanian Folk Dances were perhaps closer to Gábos’s homeland. Though Hungarian, she comes from Transylvania which, though now in Romania, had/has a significant Hungarian population, but not enough to justify the region’s remaining under Hungarian suzerainty after the redrawing of borders by the Treaty of Trianon in 1920. Though I haven’t been able to find much personal information about her, Gábos has played with the State Philharmonic of Târgu-Mureș which may be the closest one can get to identifying her origin. Târgu-Mureș is about 100 km east of Cluj-Napoca, the main city in Transylvania.

Anyway… Bartók’s six folk dance transcriptions are familiar, indeed very popular, and her playing was admirably clear, rhythmically firm and melodically much closer to the folk music of other eastern European countries, and thus more accessible to western European ears. But Gábos’s playing exploited as much as possible of the modal, non-chromatic as could be found in the pieces, losing nothing of their impact and folk-dance character.

She played a small encore, also by Bartók: Evening in Transylvania (Este a székelyeknél); brief, light-hearted, yet emphatically Bartók.

On Tuesday 18 September at 7 pm she will give a recital, piano-four-hands, with NZSM head of piano studies, Jian Liu, comprising piano duet repertoire of Mozart, Schubert and Debussy as well as Gyorgy Kurtag’s four-hand arrangements of Bach arias and chorale preludes. I’d recommend getting there. (The school of music is still in the same place, Gate 7, just past the round-about, though now gained through a new, huge and forbidding building on Fairlie Terrace).


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