Written by: Duncan Hadfield
Notable French musicians performing at the South Bank (and St. John’s) – that’s the concept behind the six-concert Harmoniques Festival presented by harmonia mundi uk, the distributor of numerous, independent CD labels, between 8 and 14 October. For harmonia mundi’s own label, Harmonique’s chosen artists – Trio Wanderer, Alain Planes and Anne Gastinel – have made a number of noted recordings. First up is an exciting young pianist, Frank Braley, who makes his London debut in the Purcell Room.
Braley was born in 1968 and began his piano studies at the age of four. Yet a desire to study science in his youth made him reluctant to pursue his musical talents. It was only in 1986 that Braley decided to devote himself to music full-time and entered the Conservatoire Nationale de Musique in Paris; three years later he was unanimously awarded ’premiere prix’ for both piano and chamber music. More success followed when, aged 22, Braley won First Prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Belgium. A decade on, he has been acknowledged as a pianist with exceptional musical and poetic qualities.
It was especially rewarding for me to meet him on home ground in Paris recently and discuss what he has in store when he arrives in London. “I’ve given many engagements in Europe, America and Japan and worked with many international orchestras, but for some reason I haven’t yet played that often in Britain, not in a solo capacity, so I’m finding the opportunity of doing that in London, thanks to the Harmoniques Festival, especially inviting. I think any recital is a showcase for the performer but I’m trying to make this one particularly alluring, and have hopefully come up with an inviting programme.”
“I open with some very short pieces by Kurtag from his collection Jatekok, which I think are almost like an appetiser for what is to follow. Kurtag is a supreme miniaturist for whom every note counts – he deals with silence and space, so these quirky fragments should therefore prepare the ears for the remainder of the concert, a sort of cleansing of the ears. I like to compare and contrast all the time, so I’m going from Kurtag directly to Haydn, his Andante and variations in F minor, followed by a large-scale work I’m very fond of, Beethoven’s A flat sonata, Op.110.”
“Well, what can one say about Beethoven? He’s someone I’ve always been fascinated by. I think there’s so much richness and depth in all his music, especially these late sonatas. One interesting project I’m involved with at the moment is playing all thirty-two sonatas as part of a six-player team in which we present the works in chronological order over the space of an intense weekend. I’ve recently recorded Op.110 along with the ’Moonlight’ and ’Appassionata’. What am I searching for in my interpretation? Warmth, integrity, and a gritty, grainy sound. In the Purcell Room, maybe my playing of this penultimate sonata will give the audience an insight into my Beethovenian style.”
“After the interval, it’s something very different again – a selection of Preludes by Debussy followed by Gershwin’s own solo piano version of Rhapsody in Blue. I think there’s an obvious connection – both the lyricism and the bravura of French composers, such as Debussy and Ravel, evidently influenced Gershwin. I find the solo Rhapsody especially rewarding. Unlike the orchestral version the pianist has to play all the notes – it’s a virtuoso piece, requiring a great deal of stamina.”
“Beyond that I approach my engagements with what I like to think of as a mixture of intelligence and poetry. It’s the architecture of the works that I care about. Then there’s a desire to animate and express them as lucidly and attractively as possible, with a sense of freedom, so that one is never sure precisely what will happen – that gives every recital I play an added danger or thrill. I suppose it’s a mixture of certainty and spontaneity for which I’m searching. Ambitions? To carry on playing and exploring, and make the audience sit up and listen. I think that I can promise anyone who comes to hear me a rewarding journey, with some splendid vistas to take in along the way.”
- Frank Braley plays at the Purcell Room on Monday 8 October at 7.30pm – music by Kurtag, Haydn, Beethoven, Debussy and Gershwin
- Harmoniques, Musique a la francaise – Doulce Memoire (11 October, 7.30), Trio Wanderer (13 October, 3.00) and Anne Gastinel (13 October, 7.30) – all in the Purcell Room. 020 7960 4242. www.rfh.org.uk
- Alain Planes gives a recital at St John’s, Smith Square on 14 October at 7.30 – Schubert, Debussy and Dusapin. 020 7222 1061. Read the review here