Stimulating, evocative recital from NZSM piano student Liam Furey at St Andrew’s

St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Liam Furey – piano

Schoenberg: Sechs kliene Klavierstücke, Op 19
Schumann: Fantasiestücke, Op 12
Liam Furey: Silence of Kilmister Tops and six Preludes for piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday 5 August, 12:15 pm

A month ago Liam Furey was one of several piano students representing Victoria University in St Andrew’s lunchtime concert; then, he played Beethoven’s Op 49 No 2. This time he moved some distance from the sort of music played and enjoyed around 1800: into what must still be regarded as music that after more than a century has still not found anything like comprehension, acceptance and enjoyment, among 90 percent of music lovers: Schoenberg’s six short piano pieces.

Setting one’s mind adrift and following Schoenberg’s demand to banish notions of all the music written before 1910 (and almost all that has been written since then), with no expectation of attracting a big fan mail, is still an interesting experience. Yet at the time Schoenberg was still working on the reasonably accessible Gurre-Lieder. While I’ve heard most of Schoenberg’s music over the years, and enjoy all that was written before 1910 and some later, music like these pieces generates no positive emotions, apart from a kind of dismay.

Nevertheless, each piece is clearly differentiated and that demands the arousal of emotions; in spite of the composer’s determination to rid his music of conscious harmony and pathos and a simplification of emotion and feelings. Though the sixth piece, a sort of lament on the death of Mahler, can hardly not be based on an expression of feeling.

Nevertheless, no one can complain about challenging oneself with such a set of short pieces, and seeking to register the feelings that result – though Schoenberg would undoubtedly condemn a listener seeking to pin down specific feelings. I was pleased to have heard this well-studied, serious-minded performance.

The only similarity with the next group – Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op 12 – was the heterogeneous nature of a variety of pieces.  The juxtaposition of Schumann and Schoenberg, in itself, invited expectation, mystification, artistic curiosity. Both are technically challenging and their performance must be regarded as marks of very considerable technical skill and intellectual achievement.

One difficulty I had with them, and surprisingly perhaps with the Schumann, was dynamics. In order to play them with the occasional, unrestrained outburst of passion, there was no need for the piano lid to be up. Apart from Aufschwung, I’ve never felt they called for fortissimo playing, even in pieces like Grillen and In der Nacht.

But generally, these pieces were rich with emotional and impressionistic variety: the glimmering light of Des Abends, capturing the enquiring, endearing sense of Warum?, even the nightmarish story that Furey seemed to read into In der Nacht: sure, it goes fast, but I’ve never experienced the feelings that he seemed to seek. All was forgiven however in the last piece, Ende vom Lied (never mind a few little smudges). Though they could have used more magic and subtlety, these are typically 1830s Schumanesque pieces, and the performances were enchanted and enchanting.

His own music 
Then Furey played a couple of his own pieces: the first playing of Silence of Kilmister Tops inspired by the atmosphere of the hill-tops west of Ngaio, during the Lock-down; the uncanny calm, the sudden wind gusts, but an underlying unease.

Then Furey presented his own take on the form of impressionistic pieces in Preludes for Piano – six of them. They depicted the weather and nature’s response to it. Some rather weighty leaves in the first piece, icicles that sounded threatening, clusters of wide-spaced raindrops that were suddenly disturbed by violent wind gusts in Raindrops dancing on the lake; but I didn’t recognise the wind’s performance on the Aeolian harp in the next piece. Nor did I really hear  the tremors on the sea floor, but that’s perhaps because I’m not a diver. The joyous birds in the morning might rather have introduced the suite of preludes, but it brought the attractive set of pieces to a genial finish.

They were charming, evocative pieces, which the composer played, as you’d expect, with understanding and pleasure. In spite of certain interpretive details, this was a recital that stimulated, tested and afforded considerable interest for the audience.

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