Another enjoyable outing to Sutton House in Hackney for the second concert in Sutton House Music Society’s 2012-13 season, given by Venezuelan pianist Elena Riu, in her new project called ‘Inventions’.
The programme placed the Two- and Three-part Inventions of Bach alongside inventions by contemporary composers, including Ligeti, Lutoslawski, Shchedrin, Gulbaidulina and Finch. Elena described the programme as “an experiment”, though there was nothing experimental about her playing. The Bach Inventions, many of which brought a Proustian rush of memories for me, as I had learnt them as a young piano student, were executed with a restrained elegance, which served to highlight the beauty of Bach’s contrapuntal writing. And by placing Bach alongside contemporary composers, Elena was able to illuminate Bach’s own innovative approach.
Bach intended his Inventions as exercises for piano students: as he stated on the title page, they were designed to enable students of the piano to “learn to play cleanly in two parts” and “to handle three obligate parts correctly and well”. They were also intended to help the piano student develop a good cantabile (singing) style of playing, and to “acquire a strong foretaste of composition”. Bach’s Two- and Three-Part Inventions are models of “inventiveness”. Each one takes an opening motif which is then used to create new themes and develop them in clever and ingenious ways. Although tightly structured, with distinct motives, answers, counter-motives, and expositions, Bach’s Inventions – and those which were inspired by his writing – display an inventive process, whereby the motive is varied, counterpointed and re-textured to create a complete work.
Contemporary composers, inspired by Bach, have used the Invention model as a springboard for new explorations of the form, utilising different styles and musical language. It is the spirit of “inventiveness” in both new and old which connects Bach to his contemporary successors. As Elena Riu mentioned in the programme notes, this juxtaposition of old and new is a “journey of recreation – I have gathered together a selection of pieces which distil new material out of the old”.
Some of the works performed were fleeting, miniatures of only a page or so. Others were a little more substantial, though still of the genre ‘miniature’. Many showed the influence of Bach in motifs, textures and ornamentation. All were played with fine attention to detail, exquisite dynamic shading (whispered pianissimos, and some wonderfully bright and percussive fortes), charm and humour. The programme included the UK premiere of ‘Invención’ by Venezuelan composer Alfredo Rugeles, and world premieres of works by Diana Arismendi and Lola Perrin, whose work ‘Poet Reflecting’ (2012) had a spare and meditative beauty. The concert closed with Rodion Shchedrin’s ‘exuberant and colourful Two-Part Invention’, which left me and my concert companion exclaiming to one another “I’ve got to learn that!”. (This, for me, is one of the chief pleasures of a concert programme such as this: exposure to new repertoire.)
For an encore, Elena played Granados’ ‘Danza de la Rosa’ from the Escenas Poeticas, a sensuous and atmospheric miniature.
My Meet the Artist interview with Elena Riu
The 2012-13 season at Sutton House continues in February, with a concert by ‘cellist Mayda Narvey and pianist Naomi Edemariam. Full details and tickets here.