Fazil Say Recital

Sonata No.48 in C (Hob XVI/35)
Sonata No.46 in E (Hob XVI/31)
Sonata No.35 in A flat (Hob XVI/43)
Black Earth
The Rite of Spring (the composer’s two-piano transcription with emendations by Fazil Say; part-live, part-recorded)

Fazil Say (piano)

Reviewed by: William Yeoman

Reviewed: 29 April, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

This recital by Fazil Say demonstrated how an intelligently planned programme can point-up similarities in the most disparate of elements, given the right person for the job. And Say’s innate musicianship, combined with a formidable technique, ensured that he was just that person.

Say’s Haydn was both captivating and revelatory. We learned how, in the C major sonata, the rippling though much-maligned Alberti bass of the Allegro con brio serves to emphasise both the dramatic deviation from it in the development section and the rising arpeggio figure in the following Adagio. Or how much the Allegretto of the E major sonata owes to the Empfindsdamer school of CPE Bach and the more circumspect sonatas of Scarlatti. The performance of the sonatas as a whole was testament to Say’s ability to conjure up the fortepiano (a world of suggestion, as Tovey would have it) by his awareness of the witty interplay between the hands, highly articulated passage work, punchy sforzando chords and judicious use of rallentando.

In the Modéré of Ravel’s Sonatine, Say transmogrified the Alberti bass of Haydn into a shimmering world of pastel harmonies before leading us gently into the wistful dance of the Menuet. The final Animé, with its figurations reminiscent of Couperin, looks simultaneously backwards and forwards in time; Say brought out this relationship by skilful pedalling and variety of tone.

Say’s own composition, Black Earth, is based on the popular song “Kara Toprak” by Turkish singer-poet Asik Veyset. The dark, atmospheric tones of the opening form the backdrop to the voice of the saz, a traditional Turkish instrument, which is here imitated by deadening the strings of the piano with the left hand while striking the keys normally with the right. This was most effective, the additional colours and folkloric idiom looking forward to the Stravinsky to come; the glassy melody in the upper register, which led into the jazzy middle section (reminiscent of Keith Jarrett), similarly looked back to the Ravel. A CD of Say’s music is on Naïve V 4954.

Following the interval, we returned to find a large video screen set above the piano and a small camera, mounted on a tripod, hovering above the keyboard. This was to enable the audience to watch Say’s hands ‘do battle’ with the ghostly mechanism of the onboard computer of the Bösendorfer 290SE as it played back his pre-recorded part of the composer’s two-piano/four-hand version of The Rite of Spring. It was an amazing spectacle, both aurally and visually, with Say bringing the score to life by employing an even greater range of techniques to that we had already witnessed: more deadening of the strings, plucking them, raking them with the backs of the fingers, banging them with the open palm. Not the composer’s intention, though! The rhythmic complexities of the score were deftly managed, and, as with the Haydn and Ravel, a whole world of orchestral colour was suggested, inviting our imaginations to fill in the gaps.

There way two encores (Say and Mozart). Say’s relaxed posture at the keyboard, his humming along, his conducting with whatever hand was free, and stamping his feet rhythmically: all showed a complete absorption in the music, which sounded as though it were an extemporisation based on a huge command of the musical language. What’s that line of Pope’s? “He moves most freely he who has learnt to dance.”

International Piano Series

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