Années de pèlerinage, première année: Suisse [selection]
Preludes: Book I – Des pas sur la neige; Ce qu’a vu le vent de l’ouest; La fille aux cheveux de lin
Ashley Wass (piano)
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 30 November, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
It was heartening to see a relatively large audience turn out on a wet and windy night for this recital by Ashley Wass, part of which was to launch a new Naxos recording of piano music by William Alwyn (1905-85): on the strength of the performances with which Wass opened and closed his programme – two large-scale works by this composer – the record seems to be worth investigating.
Whether it is a good idea to devote so much of a Wigmore Hall recital to this purpose is another matter, for although Wass’s performance of Alwyn’s Twelve Preludes (1958) was surely all that the composer could have wished for, one has to doubt the wisdom of following these not unattractive pieces with five from Liszt’s First Book of the Years of Pilgrimage (Switzerland), which left the Alwyn set standing as works of art – utterly outclassed by the music of a compositional and pianistic genius, which the gifted Englishman (and I write as an admirer of his) was not.
Wass’s performance of Liszt’s demanding music was outstanding in just about every regard – maybe he will record this as well – for in particular his combination of deep musicianship and stunning virtuosity revealed Liszt at his finest and most individual – so much so that one wished he had elected to play the complete set.
The second half opened with three Debussy Préludes – not at all inappropriate choices in a programme dominated by music confined essentially to Impressionism in its widest musical manifestations; in these pieces, Wass revealed more of his undoubted empathy. Alwyn’s Fantasy-Waltzes, ending the programme, were also overshadowed, this time by Debussy’s originality. The Fantasy-Waltzes make up about 30 minutes of music in 3/4 time – although not all are genuine waltzes as such – and once again the composer could not have hoped for a finer or more committed interpreter.
One hopes that for his next Wigmore Hall engagement – these are not given out willy-nilly – Ashley Wass will confine his programme solely to great music, of which he has proved himself to be such an admirable interpreter.