BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Recital at Wigmore Hall – Danny Driver

Huit Préludes – V: Les sons impalpables du rêve
Kaija Saariaho
Etudes, Book I – VI: Automne à Varsovie
Kreisleriana, Op.16

Danny Driver (piano)

Reviewed by: Barnaby Page

Reviewed: 26 March, 2018
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Danny DriverPhotograph: Richard HaughtonPerhaps the relatively small crowd at Wigmore Hall for Danny Driver was down to the three composers topping the programme, but more-conservative listeners need not have been overly deterred. The chosen Prélude is early Messiaen, reminiscent of the contemporaneous Le banquet céleste (for organ) but also showing signs of Debussy’s influence, often melodically conventional and highly lyrical in Driver’s performance (similarly the first Prélude, ‘La colombe’, which we would hear as an encore). It ends with a glissando, a point of commonality with Kaija Saariaho’s Ballade (for Emanuel Ax), which followed, a mysterious, rambling piece, now filigree, now shrill, with snatches of melody briefly emerging from its ever-changing textures; Driver delivered it with deep understanding. As he did the following, and very different, Ligeti: like so much of his work this is dominated by great slabs and jagged shafts of sound, and it perhaps says much about the trajectories of music in the twentieth-century to note that the 2005 Saariaho has much more in common with the 1928 Messiaen than either did with the 1985 Ligeti.

Driver turned in an utterly different direction for the biggest piece, Schumann’s Kreisleriana, executed with equal sympathy: especially impressive was the long second movement, its logic and integrity brought to the fore despite all its variety, alternately orchestral and vocal. The Sehr langsam sixth section was another high point, aided by the perfectly-timed appearance of the sun through the skylights; and if Driver’s playing had already convinced us with its musicality, the sheer velocity of the penultimate Sehr rasch movement proved he can do flashy, too. Kreisleriana doesn’t so much come to a conclusion as peter out; one of countless contrasts and correspondences across the four pieces – most likely the reasons for Driver’s programming of music which superficially has nothing in common, but in practice threw up all sorts of intriguing relationships.

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