Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Piers Lane is surely at the zenith of his career. The Australian is an artist and a virtuoso as well, provides all the Finger fertigkeit – finger-readiness – that is required but also gets to grip with the meaning of the music he plays, what 'Thomas Mann described as 'the music behind the song'. This was shown especially in his first encore, the familiar Chopin E flat Nocturne, which he delivered like a dream, a romantic poem that owed a lot to the style of the melodies of the operas that were all the rage in the ottocento, the first half of the nineteenth century, when the public swooned at dreamy melodies laced with virtuoso decorations called coloratura.

He began his Wigmore Hall recital January 25 – a packed house – with a handful of the hundreds of little dances that Schubert wrote, ländler that are gay, brisk, alternating with slow ones that catch your heart.

Then came the three Intermezzos and G minor Rhapsodie that make up the opus 119 written by Brahms in his last years when he seemed physically prematurely old. He once said that he never sent his works to the printer until they were 'unassailable'. I remember Alan Rawsthorne, teaching at Dartington, advising his students to study the work of Brahms. He didn't much care for the music but he had to admire the craftsmanship, how the wily old composer solved problems and turned awkward corners. I also recall hearing a pianist – professor of the old school – getting lost in that Rhapsody because he couldn't find the right modulation to lead back to the home key, so that the piece lasted for ten minutes instead of five or six, a feat of improvisation on his part. Piers played this as he did everything else in his recital, note and style perfect.

Opus 110, Beethoven's penultimate Sonata in A flat was played so that it dug deep but also demonstrated the composer's amazing way of intergrating (as Chopin also did) virtuosic decoration in music that is deeply serious; how did LvB manage to invest tonic and dominant progressions so that they sound like statements of spiritual faith?

The programme ended with magnificent playing of the four Ballades of Chopin. Heart, mind, soul, cannons decked with flowers, we got it all, especially in that pinnacle of Chopin's oeuvre, the final Ballade in F minor.

For his final encore, Piers Lane let his hair down and played Dudley Moore's variations on a jingle whose composer is not known: its seven notes have words; the first two are rude then "and the same to you". The late Dud's variations are a witty parody of Beethoven's early-to-middle style, aggressive, imitative, with final cadences ad nauseam. Its crude and funny and it sent us all home in a thoroughly good humour. (Two days late I realised that OF COURSE! The jingle is the first theme of Colonel Bogey.)

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