Well contrived and performed recital of piano music from NZSM students at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concerts

Piano students of the New Zealand School of Music
Shangrong Feng: Haydn: Sonata in C, Hob. XVI 48
Liam Furey: Beethoven: Sonata in G minor, Op 49 No 2
Boulez: Douze notations pour piano (1945)
David Codd: Chopin: Nocturnes Op 27, nos 1 & 2
Vincent Brzozowski: Mendelssohn: Variations sérieuses

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 8 July, 12:15 pm

This was a thoughtfully contrived hour-long recital: and an interesting range of music, even if only one piece was composed after 1850.

Haydn Sonata
Shangrong Feng’s sonata by Haydn is one of the 50-odd that he composed, which have not till recently been universally considered worthy of performance by professional pianists even though they were generally written for eminent adults. No 48 in the exhaustive Hoboken catalogue (1789/90) was among the last of the 52 recognised by Hoboken. The first movement is marked Andante con espressione; it was at the indicated pace although I’d have described Shangrong’s playing as thoughtful, even analytical, rather than expressive. Her touch was subtle and discreet, sometimes Scarlatti-like, particularly in her handling of the little ornamental phrases. And the second movement, a Rondo (Presto), was in sharp contrast, by no means pitched at a less than highly accomplished player.

Is it time for someone to undertake a series of Haydn piano sonatas? Just the kind of exploit that would sit interestingly in a St Andrew’s series…

Liam Furey played the second of Beethoven’s two Op 49 sonatas, generally regarded as ‘easy’, and they are indeed generally tackled by students, around grade IV (speaking personally). But in the hands of someone who is conspicuously far beyond that, it responds to the attention of an accomplished, mature performer. In some ways it represented a nice affinity with the preceding Haydn sonata and the second movement, a minuet, with two contrasting ‘trio’ sections, is gentle and superficially undemanding; Furey played it charmingly, seriously.

Boulez’s Notations
There could scarcely have been a starker contrast than the twelve ‘notations’ by Boulez. One shouldn’t allow the name Boulez immediately to shut down one’s expectation that nothing comprehensible is about to be heard. These extremely varied pieces had the virtue both of not being too long, and of actually persuading the listener to set aside prejudice and to find the whole package interesting and genuinely musical. The second of the short pieces brought something of one’s usual Boulez experience, and from then one’s curiosity and attention was sustained.

Their performance by Furey was rewarding, both in admiring his courage and tenacity (and did I really observe that, like all the other players, he played from memory?), and in exposing one to a major figure in the musical world of the last century.

David Codd played Chopin’s two nocturnes of Op 27: both are around five minutes in length. The first two minutes of No 1 are very subdued while the middle section is quite animated with Chopin’s typical melodic flavour. The second Nocturne (in D flat major) is the more familiar; it was a delight to listen to both in such sensitive performances.

Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses
Finally, from Vincent Brzozowski came a relative rarity: Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses. It’s regarded as his best piano composition and one can recognise that. It’s attracted admiration from critics and many pianists and of course it stands in sharp contrast with most of Mendelssohn’s other piano music; it was written in 1841 in response to an invitation to contribute to the cost of a Beethoven monument in Bonn. Musically, it’s challenging in performance and musically impressive. Its title “sérieuses” sets it apart from most of the similar works of the period which tended more commonly to be virtuosic show-pieces rather than serious musical structures.

I’ve heard it several times though only once in a live performance. Its serious character and its descending, minor key theme are neither charming nor engaging (to me anyway); its academic and formal character has always seemed too conspicuous, at the expense of melody and emotional expressiveness. So it has never taken root in my memory and I have never come to like it particularly.

However, Brzozowski’s playing of this rather formidable, if undeniably bravura music was impressive. Though it was not flawless (and such an achievement is limited to only the most distinguished pianists), it was certainly thoroughly studied and its forbidding difficulties were handled ably.

I should comment here however, that these thoughts have prompted me to dig out and listen to various recorded versions (Nikita Magaloff, Richter, Brendel, Perahia) and my admiration for it has grown as a result.

In all, this was an excellent recital, and again we are indebted to the School of Music, exposing the surprisingly big audience to some slightly off-the-beaten track music in very capable performances.


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