Dezsö Ránki at Aldeburgh Festival

Barnabás Dukay
Rondino, that speaks to the heart
Piano Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI/49
Unstern! Sinistre, disastrol En rêve, nocturne; Mephisto Waltz No.4; Impromptu (Nocturne); Toccata; Mephisto-Polka; Wiegenlied (Chant du berceau)
… made of sunlight, stones and water …
Romanian Christmas Songs
For Children [selection]
Out of Doors

Dezsö Ránki (piano)

Reviewed by: Rian Evans

Reviewed: 15 June, 2012
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England

Dezsö RánkiAt 60, the Hungarian pianist Dezsö Ránki is highly regarded in Europe, but his visits to Britain are very few and far between. The clarity of his playing and the interpretative insight he brought to this Snape Maltings recital suggested that that is something which ought to be remedied.

Hungarian music is a strong theme in this year’s Aldeburgh festival and Ránki’s programme reflected that, plus the inclusion of a sonata by Joseph Haydn in deference to the latter’s long association with the Hungarian House of Esterházy. Ránki’s approach to the E flat Piano Sonata had no touch of showiness, the playing incisive but without any brittleness, the tone warm and velvety. The central Adagio e cantabile was delivered with the most careful attention to preserving the lyrical line contained within the elaborate ornamentation and the brighter feistier finale was the perfect balance to everything that had gone before.

The sequence of Liszt pieces was astutely chosen to show the way that the composer’s harmonic perspectives were extended in the last years of his life and, in particular, underlining the way his music would influence later composers. The stark opening of Unstern! was a case in point, its quite uncompromising mood could not be further removed from the stereotype of Liszt as a purveyor of flashy pyrotechnics. The sweet reverie of the Nocturne was beautifully delivered but again highlighting the magical effect of the descending harmonies. Ránki then brought a much more defined, glittering brilliance to the Mephisto Waltz, and an elegantly shaped line to the Impromptu. The Toccata had a fine flourish, while the acciaccatura of the Mephisto-Polka were made to carry a slightly sinister, if not quite satanic edge. The final Wiegenlied was perfectly soothing, but still had enough harmonic quirks to bamboozle an incipient Mozart in his cradle.

Ránki also included short works by his fellow-Hungarian and contemporary Barnabás Dukay. The opening piece alternated a phrase – initially seeming direct and straightforward to the point of banality – with contrasting phrases, more dissonant and explosive. Each return to the opening phrase cast it in a slightly different light to growing effect. The second piece is cast in a more Webern-like mould: a single melody embracing the widest possible leaps around the keyboard, but given a legato line and, in the upper ranges, a lovely crystalline quality by Ránki. In retrospect, the relationship both to Haydn and to Bartok emerged strongly.

Bartók’s Out of Doors was also enchantingly played by Ránki, and just as unassumingly. He characterised the music vividly, bringing to the melodic inflections – so idiomatically Hungarian – an instinctive ease and authenticity. Emphatic, rumbustious, pastoral, dreamy and rhythmically idiosyncratic: each piece had its own individual personality, Ránki colouring the music with great imagination and finesse.

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