Sarajevo-born British pianist Ivana Gavric gave a lunchtime recital of great insight, emotional intensity, and colourful storytelling combined with musicality and pianism of the highest order at London’s Wigmore Hall on Thursday 28th November. The concert, part of Lisa Peacock Concert Management’s Lunchtime Showcase Recitals series, marked the launch of Ivana’s new disc of works by Grieg and multi award-winning British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad for Champs Hill Records, a label which actively supports young artists. The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad received their London premiere at the concert.
Ivana opened her concert with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, which the composer transcribed for piano in 1911. The work was presented in a concert of new music hosted by the Société Musicale Indépendante where the composers’ names were withheld to avoid favouritism or prejudice on the part of audience and critics. The Valses nobles et sentimentales were greeted with protests, cat-calls and booing, so acerbic was the harmonic and tonal palette, and only a handful of people correctly identified their composer. Ravel intended his Valses nobles et sentimentales to follow Schubert’s example (the 34 Valses Sentimentales D779 and 12 Valses nobles D969), creating a seamless suite of eight waltzes whose tonal colourings and harmonic complexities were already signposted in Gaspard de la Nuit (1908).
Ivana retained strong sense of the waltz rhythm throughout, and took the listener on a sensuous, romantic journey, conjuring up images of decadent Belle Epoque Paris and hinting at the Jazz Age to come. These stylish pieces were brought to life with subtle dynamic shadings, delicacy of touch (particularly evident in the final waltz), and sensitive articulation and pedalling. Moments of reflection were contrasted with bright exuberance in a performance rich in spontaneity, flexible yet convincing tempi, expression and musicality.
Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.x.1905, “From the Street” signalled a complete change of mood, plumbing, as it does, the depths of melancholy with an aching poignancy in two movements entitled ‘Presentiment’ and ‘Death’ respectively. The incident which triggered the composition of this sonata was the death of a young worker during an anti-German demonstration on 1st October 1905. Ivana’s reading of this angry, agonised and profoundly emotional work was alert to the changing textures of Janacek’s writing, with fluid phrasing, and a convincing judgement of mood, tempo and tonal colour. The first movement was haunting, with a tolling bell motive at the opening to which Ivana brought a spare stridency, which served to underline the tragedy in inherent in the entire work.
The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, receiving their London premiere at the concert, formed a neat bridge between Janacek and the works by Grieg which closed the concert. The first piece, In the Dew, was inspired by the third of Janacek’s In the Mists and his Piano Sonata, and makes use of harmonic material from the former, and melodic material from the latter. The composer intended the piece to be performed after the Sonata, described by the composer as “something of a palate cleanser” after the sombre mood of Janacek’s work, with twinkling sounds and an accessible tonal idiom. Winsome and folksy in its outer sections, the lyrical middle section recalled Messiaen in some of its harmonies.
The second piece, Contemplation, is “a meditation (or contemplation!) on a few bars from the second movement of Grieg’s Sonata Op 7 (bars 17-20)…….I simply elaborated upon Grieg’s chords” (Cheryl Frances-Hoad). The work had a wonderfully transparency, thoughtfully translated by Ivana’s precise and delicate touch, and her clear understanding of the serenity of the piece.
The handful of bars which inspired Cheryl Frances-Hoad came after two charming short pieces by Grieg. The Sonata, in four movements, was performed with great colour, poetry and spaciousness, vividly evoking the landscape and folk music of the composer’s native Norway. And for an encore, Ivana treated us to more Grieg, a bright and rousing Wedding Day at Troldhaugen bringing to a close a recital replete in transparent sound, varied tonal shadings, technical security and an acute musicality.
Ivana Gavric’s new recording Grieg: Piano Works is available now. Details here