Jatekok (selection) Haydn
Andante con variazioni in F minor Beethoven
Sonata in A flat, Op.110 Debussy
Preludes (selected from both books) Gershwin
Rhapsody in Blue
Frank Braley (piano)
Harmoniques - Frank Braley Concert
Monday, October 08, 2001 Purcell Room, London
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
In an age when some commentators bemoan (with some justification) the lack of individuality among todays instrumentalists, Frank Braley should be heard: like another Frank, Braley does it his way. More than likely though the people who report clone-like interpretations wouldnt have ventured to Braleys debut London recital: I dont know who he is nor will you if you dont make the effort.
Braley is French, in his early thirties and, if his chosen programme is indicative, someone who relishes imaginative juxtapositions of repertoire. His presentation is thoughtful: Kurtag, Haydn and Beethoven were linked almost indivisibly, applause not on Braleys agenda. After two pieces (barely five minutes) from Games, Gyorgy Kurtags aphoristic studies of notational self-denial, the Haydn came as something of an expressional shock; in fact, both composers share an economy of material.
Braley compelled attention with his focus on Kurtags silences as much as the notes themselves, duly intimating that touch, sonority and ambience are priorities in his thinking. Yet, in Haydn, his approach was uncoloured, finding a link to Bach, and his severe approach was overdone. Leaving out the repeats concentrated Haydns design, though a lack of wit, even allowing these variations are among Haydns most serious utterances, attenuated Braleys austerity; even the passionate climax failed to ignite.
Braleys somewhat mechanical, marionette-like movements belie his svelte touch and sense of poetry; I was occasionally reminded of Radu Lupu. His Beethoven had an Impressionistic input, the piano keys barely stroked at times but always with intent; though Braley can be as forceful and declamatory as anyone when he wants. If Op.110 lacked a sense of improvisation and Braleys well-ordered approach inhibited the scherzos quirkiness, his solemn, refulgent Adagio dug deep into Beethovens consciousness Claudio Arrau invoked and he built the finales fugue with authority; a shame then that the sunrise coda seemed tacked-on rather than organic. Good though to hear a personal touch (literally) brought to this music.
After the hermetically-sealed first half, Braley seeming to be of monastic persuasion, the second half consisted of some outstanding Debussy, which Braley verbally introduced to the audience with humour and charm. Clinical and chiselled, Braley found a balance between musical suggestion and harmonic clarity that, when distilled by a pianist of unlimited resources of colour and dynamics, ensured that each note had infinitesimal expressive power. Des pas sur la neige was revealed with an appropriately cold beauty of tone; complemented by Braleys depth of feeling this has haunted me (Celibidache, a decent pianist, might have played it like this). Braley caught the dry, dusty Spanish atmosphere of La Puerta del Vino ideally; General Lavine-eccentric was persuasively laconic.
In his short introduction, Braley suggested that the harmonies of Feuilles mortes anticipated Bill Evans by forty years. Braley ended his six-Prelude selection by segueing dead leaves with Gershwin. Rhapsody in Blue, the composers solo arrangement, was given a classical reading, a tad staid I suppose. Braleys European viewpoint took Rhapsody away from Manhattan with articulacy and style; relaxed, with affection and, seemingly, with Ferde Grofes orchestrations (for Paul Whitemans band and, then, symphony orchestra) in mind an allusion of muted trumpet or a saxophone section was evident in Braleys varied hues. For encores, he brought rhythmic acumen to a little something from The Gershwin Songbook, adding another Debussy Prelude for good measure.
I am very keen to hear Braley again; he must record Debussys Preludes. Two pieces I would be interested to hear him tackle Liszts B minor sonata and Ravels Gaspard de la nuit no applause between them!