Michael Endres surrounds Schubert with varied companion pieces at Mulled Wine concert

Mulled Wine Concerts

Michael Endres (piano)

Handel: Minuet in G minor, HWV 434
Schubert: Sonata in D, Opus 53, ‘Gasteiner’, D 850
Ravel: Jeux d’eau
William Bolcom: Etude No 12 ‘Chant à l’amour’
Gershwin: Four song transcriptions: Embraceable You (trans. by Earl Wild), Someone to watch over me, Looking for a Boy, I got Rhythm)

Raumati South Memorial Hall, Tennis Court Road

Sunday 10 March, 2:30 pm

The first of this year’s Mulled Wine Concerts, organised by Mary Gow, usually in the Paekakariki Memorial Hall, took place in the South Raumati Hall because the other is undergoing earthquake treatment. It was a fine beginning to the year, musically, but was subject to sound problems (as does the Paekakriki hall to a less degree), broad, hard surfaces that present difficulties for a pianist. It’s easy enough to say he should play more quietly, but dynamics are as deeply embedded in a pianist’s performance as the notes themselves and other aspects of articulation. When I spoke to him afterwards, he himself referred to his efforts to deal with the acoustic.

One is there however, to enjoy the performance in as positive a way as possible, and that was not hard.

The programme was interesting, with three out of the five pieces unfamiliar, at least in a concert setting. Handel’s Minuet, as with a lot of his music presents problems for the non-specialist: his output was so enormous in quantity and variety and its cataloguing seems more complicated and problematic than the works of any other composer.

The Wikipedia entry on Handel’s works shows this piece as the fourth part of a Suite de pièce in B-flat major, HWV (the Handel catalogue: Händel Werk Verzeichnis) 434, a minuet in G minor.

This was an arrangement by great German pianist Wilhelm Kempff. As Endres wrote, it’s Romantic in character, and it sounds of the 19th rather than the 18th century. His playing had a wistfulness, seeming to avoid emphasis on its rhythm. And the piano responded to Endres’s approach, far removed from the sound of a harpsichord, for which it was presumably written.

To Gastein with Schubert
With no pause, Endres launched into Schubert’s Sonata in D (No 17 in some editions, but Deutsch No 850, and ‘Gasteiner’ because it was written the spa town, Gastein, in the Alps south of Salzburg). The contrast was quite as dramatic as the pianist had clearly intended: passionate, full of energy, tonally and rhythmically varied, with many modulations. Sure, at times it was a bit overwhelming in the dry space; Beethoven’s presence was audible in the piano treatment and the almost orchestral density of the scoring, if not in the music itself which was clearly enough Schubert.

The essentially rhapsodic nature of the second movement, Con moto, might have suggested a relaxed rhythm had Schubert not provided the title, and with its quite markedly contrasting sections, it is hardly a typical ‘adagio’-like slow movement.

The Scherzo picked up, in a more energetic spirit, the dotted rhythms that characterised parts of the previous movement, and here the pianist’s virtuosic skills were fairly dramatically exploited.  Those unfamiliar with the piece would probably have, like me, been surprised at the greater familiarity of the first theme of the last movement, and engaged by the constantly changing character of the piece, and Schubert’s originality of composition for the piano.

If that major composition was clearly the centre-piece of the concert, the second half was less challenging and surprisingly disparate. There are scores of brilliant performances of Ravel’s Jeux d’eau out there, but there were some rather individual aspects in Endres’s playing; splashing water had charming tinkling effects in the first pages, while the music later suggested rather fearful and formidable torrents, a more dangerous water game than pianists usually play with Ravel. The acoustic shortcomings of the hall were the last things on my mind, hearing this stunning performance.

I’ve heard some of William Bolcom’s songs, but had never encountered the set of Etudes from which he played No 12. I was attracted by the pianist’s comments in an email prior to the concert: “a magnificent example that contemporary music can be enticing, spiritual and very rewarding to play and listen to as opposed to so much of today’s ‘sound art’, which has often little to say despite its myriads of notes and highest complexity of its scores.” My thoughts too, reinforced after hearing Bolcom’s interesting, far from hackneyed or unoriginal piece, so persuasively played.

That feeling was perhaps deliberately exemplified in the set of four song transcriptions by Gershwin. They were certainly opportunities for spectacular piano playing, reminding one of the more virtuosic jazz pianists – perhaps not Art Tatum, but possibly Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett or Bill Evans. Only ‘Looking for a Boy’ escaped me as I don’t know it; but the arrangement of ‘I Got Rhythm’, built excitingly to a fine, quite prolonged exhibition of Endres’s idiomatic feeling for the jazz area of popular music.

And he ended with a very unfamiliar piece by Ottorino Respighi, Notturno, which would hardly suggest the composer of Pines of Rome or the Botticelli Triptych. It ended a delightful recital of some off-the-beaten-track music.

I hope that this move away from the Paekakariki hall by the sea is not prolonged and that the interest of the forthcoming programmes attracts the usual good audiences, wherever they might be.



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