Hüseyin Sermet at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Trois petites fantaisies, Op.41
Ballades – in G minor, Op.23; in A minor, Op.38
Nuages gris; Abschied; En rêve
Piano Sonata in B minor

Hüseyin Sermet (piano)

Reviewed by: John-Pierre Joyce

Reviewed: 9 February, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Hüseyin Sermet. Photograph: Mat HennekIntelligence and precision marked this recital by Turkish pianist and composer Hüseyin Sermet, even if this was sometimes at the expense of passionate risk-taking.

Most soloists in the International Piano Series have taken the bicentenary of Chopin’s birth as their starting point. Sermet chose two of Chopin’s Ballades as the central works in his programme. Written between 1835 and 1840, they are among his most stormily poetic works. In both, Sermet concentrated his efforts on their darker side. This led to a rather cerebral approach. In the Ballade in G minor, for example, he lingered far too long over the introduction, and his playing sounded a little cautious and mechanical until the central waltz. Perhaps this was just a warm-up, because the Ballade in A minor was far more captivating, with its mix of nocturnal warmth and threatening militancy.

Sermet framed his programme with works by two of Chopin’s contemporaries. Charles-Valentin Alkan remains a rather neglected figure, and Sermet has done much to champion the cause of this original composer. Close your eyes and listen to the Trois petites fantaisies and you imagine something approaching late Chopin, Debussy or even Prokofiev. Taut, spare and surprisingly modern (Alkan wrote them in 1857), the three pieces grow out of the smallest of musical seeds and develop into unpredictable and edgy masterpieces.

Sermet closed the first half of the recital with three darkly contemplative miniatures by Liszt. Nuages Gris clearly prefigures Ravel and Debussy. Its sombre, Impressionistic tone was followed by the despairing Abschied, completed in the year of Liszt’s death. Only En rêve lifted some of the gloom, although its disturbed wakefulness offered little comfort.

Sermet devoted the second part of the concert to Liszt’s towering Piano Sonata in B minor. Its organic musical growth, unexpected twists and turns and technical demands perfectly suited Sermet’s skills. He was able to weld its sometimes disparate elements into a comprehensible structure, taking the listener on an unpredictable musical journey that was reconciled by the end.

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