Sonata in A, D664 Murray
Fantasy [Revised Version: first performance] Debussy
Préludes [Book 1; selection] Clara Schumann
Romances Opp.5/3 & 11/1 Robert Schumann
Etudes symphoniques, Op.13
Danny Driver (piano)
Danny Driver Recital
Monday, April 28, 2003 Purcell Room, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
I first heard Danny Driver at last years London International Piano Competition. While I thought at the time that he hadnt merited further advancement in the event, his account of Schumanns Kreisleriana etched itself bit-by-bit into my feelings and struck home forcibly a few days later. Almost by osmosis I decided that Danny Driver could well be an exceptional talent. So this recital confirmed. Driver has all the makings of becoming a notable musician one of integrity and intelligence, commodities all too rare. At 25, time is on his side.
Schuberts delightful A major Sonata was given with flowing contentment and thoughtful expression, and with a rumination that never impeded direction but drew the listener in. The slow movement equally so, simplicity and searching indivisible (as also Schumanns Träumerei from Kinderszenen, Drivers encore). In the finale, Drivers occasional lack of poise and the odd bumpy phrase gave reassuring notice that he is a pianist on the way up with some things still to address. Significantly, he can nip and tuck at musics straight line without sounding mannered. He also judged dynamics to a nicety and made the Purcell Room a more agreeable space for the piano than is usually the case.
One of Drivers hallmarks is his delight in what he is doing. While he is not yet in their league, his naturalness, thinking, and understatement reminded, respectively, of Lupu, Brendel and Curzon. Clearly too he has an open approach to repertoire. Clara Schumanns Romances do not come up very often. Mendelssohn looking over her shoulder, these two attractive salon pieces proved pleasant and have more harmonic interest than the title might suggest. I did feel, though, that Driver unduly harried the first one. Of Tim Murrays 10-minute piece, well, it seems too organised to be a fantasy and not distinctive enough stylistically. A first hearing suggests it could have been written at any time in the last ninety years either by a not fully entranced member of Schoenbergs class or by a less radical entrant to Darmstadt.
Murrays Fantasy is actually based on Schumann the first song of "Dichterliebe". Roberts own Etudes symphoniques closed Drivers recital, curiously announced as the 1852 version. Written in 1834, it is now quite common for the five posthumously published (in 1873) variations to be inserted either en bloc or dispersed. Driver is right to include and scatter, although this particular ordering didnt quite give the desired overall continuity.
While one could again mention a lack of composure, some over-heated staccatos and a weighted approach that sounded more appropriate for Brahms than idiomatically Schumann (in terms of flight and fantasy), there were also some wonderful things not least the last of the posthumous variations, which here seemed like droplets of consciousness. Mesmerising! Equally the kinship of Variation 9 with Chopin was beautifully distilled. You could have heard a pin drop. If the Etudes didnt quite add up, there was much to admire along the way.
The Debussy, however, was quite outstanding. (I recall Frank Braleys very different approach with equal enthusiasm.) Drivers recollection of The Girl with the Flaxen Hair (Prelude 8) was fond indeed; such poetic and magically-touched playing also informed 'evening sounds and perfumes (4), and the Anacapri hills (5) were introduced with the most spellbinding suggestion of distant bells. The west wind (7) was physically thrilling.
A colleague tells me of a marvellous Gaspard de la nuit that he heard Driver give I can believe it and Id like to hear him play Haydn. Apparently Driver considers himself not yet ready to record; he may be right, but hes more ready than some that are! I hope to hear Danny Driver again.