Danny Driver Recital

Sonata in A, D664
Fantasy [Revised Version: first performance]
Préludes [Book 1; selection]
Clara Schumann
Romances – Opp.5/3 & 11/1
Robert Schumann
Etudes symphoniques, Op.13

Danny Driver (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 28 April, 2003
Venue: Purcell Room, London

I first heard Danny Driver at last year’s London International Piano Competition. While I thought at the time that he hadn’t merited further advancement in the event, his account of Schumann’s Kreisleriana etched itself bit-by-bit into my feelings and struck home forcibly a few days later. Almost by osmosis I decided that Danny Driver could well be an exceptional talent. So this recital confirmed. Driver has all the makings of becoming a notable musician – one of integrity and intelligence, commodities all too rare. At 25, time is on his side.

Schubert’s delightful A major Sonata was given with flowing contentment and thoughtful expression, and with a rumination that never impeded direction but drew the listener in. The slow movement equally so, simplicity and searching indivisible (as also Schumann’s Träumerei from Kinderszenen, Driver’s encore). In the finale, Driver’s occasional lack of poise and the odd ’bumpy’ phrase gave reassuring notice that he is a pianist on the way up with some things still to address. Significantly, he can nip and tuck at music’s straight line without sounding mannered. He also judged dynamics to a nicety and made the Purcell Room a more agreeable space for the piano than is usually the case.

One of Driver’s hallmarks is his delight in what he is doing. While he is not yet in their league, his naturalness, thinking, and understatement reminded, respectively, of Lupu, Brendel and Curzon. Clearly too he has an ’open’ approach to repertoire. Clara Schumann’s Romances do not come up very often. Mendelssohn looking over her shoulder, these two attractive salon pieces proved pleasant and have more harmonic interest than the title might suggest. I did feel, though, that Driver unduly harried the first one. Of Tim Murray’s 10-minute piece, well, it seems too organised to be a fantasy and not distinctive enough stylistically. A first hearing suggests it could have been written at any time in the last ninety years – either by a not fully entranced member of Schoenberg’s class or by a less radical entrant to Darmstadt.

Murray’s Fantasy is actually based on Schumann – the first song of “Dichterliebe”. Robert’s own Etudes symphoniques closed Driver’s recital, curiously announced as the ’1852 version’. Written in 1834, it is now quite common for the five posthumously published (in 1873) variations to be inserted either en bloc or dispersed. Driver is right to include and scatter, although this particular ordering didn’t quite give the desired overall continuity.

While one could again mention a lack of composure, some over-heated staccatos and a weighted approach that sounded more appropriate for Brahms than idiomatically Schumann (in terms of flight and fantasy), there were also some wonderful things – not least the last of the posthumous variations, which here seemed like droplets of consciousness. Mesmerising! Equally the kinship of Variation 9 with Chopin was beautifully distilled. You could have heard a pin drop. If the Etudes didn’t quite add up, there was much to admire along the way.

The Debussy, however, was quite outstanding. (I recall Frank Braley’s very different approach with equal enthusiasm.) Driver’s recollection of ’The Girl with the Flaxen Hair’ (Prelude 8) was fond indeed; such poetic and magically-touched playing also informed ‘evening sounds and perfumes’ (4), and the Anacapri hills (5) were introduced with the most spellbinding suggestion of distant bells. The ’west wind’ (7) was physically thrilling.

A colleague tells me of a marvellous Gaspard de la nuit that he heard Driver give – I can believe it – and I’d like to hear him play Haydn. Apparently Driver considers himself not yet ready to record; he may be right, but he’s more ready than some that are! I hope to hear Danny Driver again.

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