Evelina Puzaite at Wigmore Hall

Piano Sonata No.2 in G minor, Op.22
Ten Pieces, Op.12 – 1: March; 3: Rigaudon; 6: Legenda; 10: Scherzo
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor, Op.14
Images – Series 1
Images – Series 2
Dances of Marosszék

Evelina Puzaite (piano)

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 4 January, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Evelina Puzaite. Photograph: George HarveyUnusually for a pianist – Alfred Brendel excepted – Evelina Puzaite is also an author as well as a composer, her first collection of short stories “Tempo Primo” having been published in 2008. Having followed Puzaite’s career since she first sprang to attention as one of the Guildhall School of Music Medal winners in 2004, the really impressive thing is how each successive appearance has been an improvement on the previous one. This intelligently constructed recital featuring works by Schumann and Prokofiev, two other composer-pianists, was no exception.

We were immediately plunged in medias res with the most passionate account of Schumann’s relatively infrequently performed G minor Sonata. Schumann marks the first movement so rasch wie möglich (as quickly as possible). Puzaite took him at his word but was still canny enough to leave something in reserve for the coda, improbably marked Schneller (Faster). In fact, apart from the Andantino movement, the remaining movements are marked to be played either ‘very swiftly’ or Presto, a case of Schumann constantly pushing matters to extremes. Puzaite was impressive both in her combination of clarity and in the detail she uncovered, with focus maintained even in the most headlong passages, yet locating the work’s momentary lacunae of stillness with deft precision. Occasionally in pursuit of a weight of sound she does not naturally possess she can press too hard, forcing her tone, but this was Schumann articulated with intelligence and a keen attention to what is actually written in the score.

As a curtain raiser to Prokofiev’s Second Sonata were four of 10 Pieces, the two opuses roughly concurrent, completed in 1912 and 1913 respectively. The four selections from Opus 12 are Parisian Prokofiev at his most characteristically acerbic. From the perfectly timed opening ‘March’ to the final ‘Scherzo’’ Puzaite played with evident relish and droll wit. The Sonata is more taxing fare, Prokofiev in enfant terrible mode, and none too often played by comparison with the ‘big three’ (numbers 6-8). Puzaite however has made something of a speciality of it and has its difficulties mastered. In the Andante she also impressed by her ability to breathe heart into Prokofiev’s often-brittle writing, the movement pursuing a restrained but controlled upward emotional curve. The tarantella finale, despatched with a light touch, has a fleeting moment of calm in the midst of frenetic activity, which has to be a wicked parody of Scriabin.

Debussy’s two Series of Images (with three pieces in each one) were less consistently successful. Whilst Puzaite found light and shade in the toccata-like ‘Mouvement’, her tendency to dot Is and cross Ts militated against her in ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ and ‘Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fût’, the one rather too flowing and lacking in that essential quality of repose (we are bystanders calmly ‘observing’ the reflections) and the other marked by a certain reluctance to understate or leave things half-said, to allow sounds simply to hang in the air. Images is a tough test for even the very greatest pianists; one wonders whether it might be a better option to play either just one Series in recital.

Ending on a Transylvanian note, Dances from Marosszék was a total and wholly infectious delight. Hungarians such as Annie Fischer may have found even more of the vernacular, those micro-inflections possible only to those speaking their own tongue, but Puzaite’s account was joyously exuberant. This is Kodály’s only work for piano and was completed in 1927 two years before the well-known orchestral set, the first performance being on Hungarian Radio from a young Louis Kentner whom I believe I heard play this work in Elgin High School (of all places) on an Arts Council sponsored tour of Scotland in 1960.

Puzaite offered two encores, one by Satie, measured and mesmeric, the other subtly continuing the Hungarian theme with a wonderfully deadpan account of the finale from a Haydn sonatas – in text-message speak, LOL (Laugh Out Loud) music.

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