Danny Driver

French Suite in G, BWV816
Preludes, Op.102 [selection]
Sonata in B flat, Op.83
Preludes, Op.102 [selection]
Ballade in F minor, Op.52
Fantasy in C, D760 (Wanderer)

Danny Driver (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 2 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

The French Suite’s opening Allemande sported elegant phrasing, a dash of humour, use of the sustaining pedal and excellent control of micro-dynamics; the entire effect was very soft, with barely a nod towards authenticity. If you are going to use a concert grand you might as well take advantage of all the facilities on offer! However this gentle approach did lead to some problems: the Courante and Gavotte needed less pedal, greater attack and bounce; the Sarabande was too slow and Romantic; the final toccata-like Gigue needed more clarity and strength in the fingering and a greater sense of compelling logic. At present Driver’s Bach is very civilised but lacking in animation and strength.

There followed three of York Bowen’s Preludes (with three more to begin the recital’s second half). As ever there were numerous hints of Rachmaninov and Ravel and, on this occasion, Brahms, but not a single bar of original music.

Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata is in a totally different class. In the agitated 6/8 opening movement Driver’s tempo was fine but, as in the Bach, there was some blurring and with little in the way of sforzando or staccato and the dynamic range was limited. The Andante caloroso was beautifully played but slightly cool and the ff outbursts were not convincing, while the finale suffered from too great a uniformity of tone, neither hand being allowed to emphasise the rhythmic patterns.

Chopin’s enigmatic F minor Ballade was played in a way reminiscent of the early 20th-century. The opening slow tempo was sustained throughout the work, there was a lot of limpid but sentimental phrasing and the five-part chords leading to the first forte, but the performance did have a certain massive assurance and made me listen to the music in a different way.

Massive assurance was also to the fore in the Schubert. The opening tempo was steady and the sound was full, but the second subject was too relaxed. In the slow section Driver’s sound was luxuriant, but the hands were too even, with the right failing to sing. The two concluding sections brought urbane phrasing but some self-conscious slowing and the final fugato lacked dynamic range and attack. The encore, the third of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux, brought the finest playing of the evening: the rhythms danced, the phrasing conveyed wit and elegance and the sound was pure and light.

Danny Driver is a thinking, cultivated artist. At this stage of his career there are still aspects of his playing which need some work, but he is developing into a distinguished concert pianist and I look forward to hearing him again.

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