Partita in B flat, BWV825
Twelve Etudes, Op.25
Etudes [selections – Arc-en-ciel; Fem; Cordes à vide; Fanfare]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111
Danny Driver (piano)
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 21 February, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
Placing Bach next to Chopin did both composers many favours. Driver’s playing of the former was notable for its energy and poise, and showed off his ability to inject flecks of colour, phrasing and rubato with a tact that makes them sound implied rather than stated, and which gives the music a refreshing mobility and strength. Driver’s powers of restraint and suggestion reeled the listener in with clarity of purpose that heightened Bach’s expressivity without in any way romanticising it. Any worries about some sameness of tone and volume in the first three movements were blown away by his mesmerising playing of the ‘Sarabande’ and an infectiously rhythmic ‘Gigue’, with its brilliantly sustained ripple coursing through the texture.
A technical problem with the piano may have been responsible for some hints of tension, but otherwise the Bach complemented Chopin’s Studies perfectly. Driver has an intuitive feel for balancing the expressive scale of these pieces with their supremely challenging difficulty. Some of the etudes are among the remotest music Chopin wrote; others are examples of Chopin at his most extravagantly, even Lisztian virtuosic. Driver was just as at ease with the distracted cross-rhythms of No.2 and the emotional poetry of No.7 as he was with the ferociously finger-bending thirds of No.6 and the barnstorming power of the last three. The detail throughout was astonishingly full, and Driver’s overall view of the set couldn’t help but present the twelve very different pieces as a cohesive whole.
As well it might, after scaling this particular musical peak, Driver’s sometimes-taut body-language seemed much more relaxed in the second half. He prefaced the four Ligeti studies with an engaging short talk about the range of their inspiration and imagination, which he went on to demonstrate in some acutely imaginative and colourful playing, with a freedom that continued into his performance of Beethoven’s Opus 111. Some people in the audience thought Driver rather overdid the reverential silence at the end of the work, but perhaps he was coming to terms with the fact that he had just given a truly spellbinding, visionary performance. It was one of those instantly recognisable and humbling instances of a musician being entirely at the music’s disposal and therefore its master. Not only did he realise with perfect consistency the first movement’s spiritual anticipation of and dependency on the second movement, he also presented the process of detachment and transformation of the Arietta’s variations, the sense of letting go that defines the music, with a disarming modesty, directness and simple inevitability. There was not a hint of contrivance, just Beethoven’s wisdom and truth – for which, much thanks.