April 26, 2013

British Brilliance – A different type of virtuosity


Daniel Gordon, piano
Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall,
University of Leeds

One of the last few concerts of the Concert Series 2012/13 was a piano recital by Daniel Gordon, a piano accompanist, examiner and senior teaching staff at our university. I’ve always been amazed at his ability to play difficult accompaniments at sight, his sensitivity in following the soloist while sight-reading, and skill of page-turning all at the same time!

Titling his recital ‘Britain as a pasture and refuge?’, he paid tribute to post-second world war composers who had enriched the musical life of Britain. A large part of the concert was devoted to works by Alan Richardson, whose unpublished works were recently discovered in the Library of the Royal Academy of Music.

Barely settling down at the piano, he launched into the tumultuous Study no. 1 by Kenneth Leighton. This was somewhat reminiscent of a Chopin or Liszt étude where the melody is hidden under a mountain of running notes, but had darker overtones. Leighton’s Five Studies (Op.22) were heavy, textural works, difficult for both performer and audience. Gordon had interspersed these among the more audience-friendly compositions by Richardson, Franz Reizenstein, Hans G’al and Berthold Goldschmidt to make for a well-balanced programme. Following the Leighton was Reizenstein’s Prelude and Fugue in A. The bright, sparkly colours of the Steinway was varied with its mellowed tones of Richardson’s Pastoral Sketch by Gordon’s masterful control of the instrument.

Allowing a slight moment for applause, he then launched into Leighton’s Study no. 2, which had a tinge of Debussy’s influence. The common thread among all the works was not only the ‘Englishness’ in the harmonies, but the pushing of tonal boundaries into near atonality. Richardson’s Sonata after Paganini was a paraphrase of Paganini’s Op. 3 No. 6 for violin and guitar. If at all possible, Richardson made the piece sound like Paginini had been living in the English countryside among green pastures and gambolling lambs! Instead of the original E minor, the Andante was in the key of C# minor, giving it a graver and more melancholic disposition. It also provided for greater contrast in the sunny E major Allegro section which followed. Although virtuosity was needed for this work, it was not a case for virtuosity for its own sake. Gordon chose a slower tempo for the Andante, revelling in its lush romantic harmonies; and the starting of the Allegro too, giving it a pastoral feel before the later dazzling display of virtuosity.

Goldschmidt’s Capriccio was an eclectic mix of folk dance (think marionette puppet dance!) and love song, lyricism and spikiness coexisting together before disappearing into thin air. Another study by Leighton, then the Fugue in F minor, a little piece by Hans G’al from his 24 Fugues.

Gordon then showed off his improvisational abilities in the next piece, which he called ‘Dreaming of the Ark’, based on selected compositional themes from Joseph Horovitz’s choral piece ‘Captain Noah and His Floating Zoo’. One of the melodic fragments brought to mind the third movement of Poulenc’s concerto for 2 pianos, only greatly slowed down and made into a dreamy, floaty tune! The Rhapsodic Study by Richardson which followed was passionate and intense, played with vivid changes of mood and colour. The next study, No. 4 by Leighton differed from the rest in that it was much slower and more contemplative. Gordon turned it into a delicate, introspective performance, shading the dissonances and somehow making sense of it all.

The recital concluded with Richardson’s Memento and the Study No. 5 by Leighton.
Memento, a little nostalgic piece which encompassed the light and lyrical, was made exquisitely memorable by the skilful use of rubato. Richardson had apparently used the title “Memento” for other works as well, and it seemed to represent for him, snapshots of passing moments. The Leighton study proved a loud and impressive climax to what was overall a highly interesting concert, eliciting whoops and cheers from the audience! 🙂

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