Barry Douglas

Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude
Piano Sonata in B minor

Barry Douglas (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 25 September, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Barry Douglas has long enjoyed an affinity with Liszt’s Piano Sonata, recording it for RCA in 1991. The comparatively lengthy acquaintance has enabled him to fully encompass the work’s unique structure.

This Wigmore Hall lunchtime performance seemed fittingly cast, the lights bright amid the gloom with the rain pounding outside, adding to the sense of occasion. After a measured, atmospheric opening statement that captured the initial tonal ambiguity, the exposition of the big Allegro theme was curiously stilted, the pianist having a little trouble digging out the right-hand octaves.

With this negotiated the sonata unfolded far more naturally, and the big second-subject theme was authoritative, with Douglas now able to show an impressively clean delivery.Through the Andante sostenuto section his tone was more lyrical, the ensuing move to F sharp affectionately played. As a response to this the fugato took off at quite a lick, almost too fast to hang on to, but Douglas managed to keep the definition of voices relatively clear, arriving finally at the thunderous recapitulation of the second theme with great clarity once again. In the coda Douglas emphasised the elusiveness of the final resolution, with the left-hand part muddied by the sustaining pedal, but this helped to still the effect of the last chord, held softly in an appropriate pianissimo.

The all-Liszt recital began with a section from Harmonies poétiques et religieuses. The Bénédiction is a sizeable movement that divides loosely into three thematic sections – the vividly arpeggiated opening finding a spirit of ecstatic contemplation, the second a rather chaste affair. Barry Douglas slowed rather too much for the third, but once established brought forward a pleasing lyricism. As the piece turned full circle the figurations of the swirling scales were impeccably under his fingers as the main theme returned.

It served as a fitting antecedent to the Sonata, the soft ending reminding that Liszt isn’t all about fire and brimstone.

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