I first heard French pianist Alexandre Tharaud at the Wigmore Hall in October 2013, and his performance of Bach, Schubert and Chopin left me somewhat underwhelmed.
In his concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the International Piano Series, he left me wanting more….
How clever of Alexandre Tharaud to open his QEH concert with Schubert’s Moments musicaux, salon pieces which combine charm and tenderness with an unsettling edginess to create Schubert’s emotional and musical landscape in microcosm. From the opening notes of the first of the suite, Tharaud imbued the music with intimacy and set the tone for the whole evening, even in the more extrovert sentences of Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso” from Miroirs. This was piano playing which encouraged concentrated listening.
Rachmaninov – Piano Sonata No. 2 in Bb minor Op. 36
Steven Osborne, piano
Anyone requiring evidence of a thriving musical life outside of mainstream concert halls should look no further than local music societies, which offer varied concerts and busy seasons and attract top flight artists. St Luke’s Music Society, based at St Luke’s, a beautiful church in south-west London modeled on an Italian basilica and boasting a fine acoustic, was founded in 2003 and offers a popular season of concerts. Artists this season include Nicola Benedetti and Michael Collins.
Appropriately for a concert held on Burns’ Night (25th January), the soloist was Scottish pianist Steven Osborne. But there the association ended, for the programme featured works by Russian and French composers – Prokofiev, Ravel and Rachmaninov.
The concert opened with Prokofiev’s rarely-performed Sarcasms (which Osborne has recorded for Hyperion). In these provocative miniatures, Prokofiev eschews the trend amongst late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century composers for writing salon pieces based on fairy tales and impressionistic evocations, and instead opts for biting mockery and the grotesque, much in the manner of Schoenberg’s Three Piano Pieces Op 11 or Bartok’s Burlesques and Allegro Barbaro. Alert to the idiosyncratic character of these brief pieces, Osborne’s imaginative approach gave the works the necessary snap and humour, with terse rhythms and a vivid percussive attack, though never at the expense of clarity and tonal quality.
In contrast, Ravel’s Miroirs are very much about impressionistic evocations, though they share Prokofiev’s desire to break free of formal confines. Steven Osborne has a deep affinity with the music of Ravel, and other French composers such as Debussy and Messiaen (his recording of the Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus has received high praise, and his performance of the complete Vingt Regards at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall last year was one of the most involving and profound musical events I have ever experienced). His unerring ability to fully comprehend the structure and meaning of this music was amply demonstrated in an evocative and colourful performance, from the limpid figures of ‘Noctuelle’ to the foam-flecked swell of ‘Un Barque sur l’ocean’, the sultry rhythms of the ‘Alborada del gracioso’ and the plaintive, distant chimes of ‘La vallée des cloches’. Clarity of sound, tonal shading, deftness of touch and musical understanding brought Ravel’s impressions to life with an atmospheric and shimmering palette of colours and sounds.
More Prokofiev after the interval, and snapshots of his most characteristic moods – grotesque, aggressive, assertive, poetic, mystical, delicate – in the Visions Fugitives, short pieces which shows the composer’s burgeoning talent in their contrasting moods, melodies, textures and rhythms. Osborne acute ability to move between the capricious individual characters of these short pieces – graceful melodies, moments of meditation and repose, violent virtuosity – made for a persuasive and engaging account.
The final work of the evening, Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor, was tautly managed, yet expansive, Osborne giving rein to the full romantic sweep of this work, at times redolent of the Third Piano Concerto. The rich hues and dense textures of the first movement contrasted with a beautifully nuanced second movement before a brilliant and vibrant final movement which had members of the audience on their feet applauding before the last notes had died in the hall. A single encore, one of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, brought to a close a superb evening of music making of the highest order.
Steven Osborne performs the same programme at Wigmore Hall on 14th February.
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
What an embarrassing question for me! I could say that I immediately fell in love with the instrument, that it was inside me and so on, but that would be a big lie. The truth is I can’t remember how I came up with the idea to learn how to play the piano. I remember I wanted to take a ballet class, but it didn’t work out and I never had my ballet lessons. Next thing I know: I’m playing the piano. But one thing is absolutely sure: my parents didn’t force me. They had no musical background and were pretty scared by my aspirations to be a professional musician. Concerning my career choice, I can’t remember whether someone or something specifically influenced me; I think it grew in me and finally became obvious in my teens. I started studying mathematics alongside my studies at the conservatory; finally I stood up for myself and came out of the closet as a full-time music student!
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
My teachers Véronique Menuet-Stibbe and František Maxián. They are very different pianists and both brought me what I needed at the time I met them. I only recently discovered how much I owe them for the pianist I am now and how deeply they influenced me. Of course, some world-class famous pianists played an important role in my development as well, like Schnabel, Michelangeli, Gould, Pollini or Pogorelich, among others.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Being happy with what I do and finding out who I really am as a pianist. It takes time to find your repertoire, to understand who are the composers you’re able to understand and play well, and who are those you like but shouldn’t play. It takes time to get what’s important for you in music, which direction you want to give to your work. And I have the feeling that giving yourself space to think is a real challenge in today’s music business.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
Well, my first album was released 3 months ago and I’m very proud of this achievement. It was a difficult project and I’m happy I managed it from the beginning to the end. It was very important for me to understand the whole process and I gained a immensely valuable insight. I’m also very proud I can offer it for free.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Not really. As long as there is a good piano, the basics of a concert hall and an attentive audience, I’m happy with the venue.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
Of course I love performing Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path as well as In the Mists, and that’s why they are part of my debut album. I have also a special thing for performing Beethoven and contemporary music: both feature in my next recording projects. I don’t listen to a lot of piano music (I used to) but in my current playlist, you’ll find Brahms’ Violin Concerto (C. Ferras/ H. von Karajan), Brad Mehldau’s Elegiac Circle, Dvořák’s ‘cello and piano concerti (Dupré/Barenboim – Richter/Kleiber), Beethoven’s Symphonies (Fürtwangler) or Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Gould – 1981).
Who are your favourite musicians?
Those who make me think, those who make me want to play the piano.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Performing in the dark, with just one little reading lamp for me to see the keyboard. This was a difficult Messiaen/Berio/Takemitsu program: the experience was amazing both for the audience and me. I’d like to do it more often, maybe with a more standard repertoire. I think it really enhanced the performance and was really interesting, musically speaking.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Never take anything for granted. Find your own truth and stand up for it. And remember that piano playing can’t only be based on goodwill, feelings, intuitions or piano practice. It is much more than that.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on my next recording dedicated to Beethoven’s Sonatas op. 27, 28, 109, 110 and 111, so I’m diving into his piano works, especially the Sonatas and Concerti, and it’s a real pleasure to go back to this music I haven’t played for a long time. And alongside this work on Beethoven, I’m learning Bach’s Partitas, quite new repertoire for me, and planning several multimedia projects for next year.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I hope I’ll keep the same attitude towards life and music, the same amount of insane musical ideas, the same passion for my instrument, with a little more free time and easiness to realize my projects.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t own much things, I don’t really connect with objects. My piano is certainly the best answer I can provide here.
Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont has built a reputation as a unique recitalist with an unusually broad repertoire. His multifaceted musical personality and insatiable curiosity have led him to exciting new directions, going beyond the beaten paths of the usual conformist thinking and giving him a particular view on the works he interprets.
His album Introducing Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, released in July 2012 is Dablemont’s first solo recording and includes works by Janácek and Ravel, two composers who have a particular resonance with Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont and reflect his path in the music world.
In 2013, Dablemont will release two new albums featuring six piano sonatas by Beethoven op. 27 n°1 & 2 “Moonlight”, op. 28 “Pastorale”, op. 109, op. 110, op. 111. Alongside these two recordings, the pianist will issue an essay on piano and interpretation. In the course of 2013, he will also appear in a documentary film about his work and point of views and release video recordings of several recitals.
Actively involved in the expansion and promotion of contemporary piano repertoire, Dablemont has premiered new works by composers Pavel Trojan, Petr Pokorný, Edith Canat de Chizy. In 2013, he will perform and record two new short pieces by British composer Steven Berryman: …brightly illuminated, vividly seen and Can it be such raptures meet decay?.
Born near Paris, he grew up in a non-musical family. Dablemont received his first piano lessons at age 8. Showing a talent for music, he quickly became more serious about piano and began his education under Véronique Menuet-Stibbe. He later studied with the eminent pedagogue and pianist František Maxián at the Prague Conservatory, who particularly influenced his playing.
Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont keeps a widely-read blog. There he writes about his concerts, practicing as well as he publishes detailled essays on music or analysis of works.
A dramatic and absorbing concert of “limitless possibilites”, celebrating the 150th anniversary of the birth of Claude Debussy, given by three young performers who demonstrated great insight and maturity in their approach to the music. Read my full review here.
French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard demonstrated Liszt’s far-reaching musical legacy in a spell-binding concert of intense concentration and illuminating pianism celebrating Liszt’s bicentenary and the release of Aimard’s new recording, The Liszt Project. Read my review for Bachtrack.com here.
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