James Lisney at The Red Hedgehog

Sonata in E flat, K282
Four Impromptus, D899
Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58

James Lisney (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 7 October, 2007
Venue: The Red Hedgehog, Highgate, London N6

Pianist James Lisney. Photograph: Clive BardaThe splendid venue that is The Red Hedgehog – intimate, bohemian and friendly – is a tender one-year-old. James Lisney, one of the Hedgehog’s movers and shakers, gave an attractively programmed Sunday afternoon birthday recital. A convivial atmosphere was the order of the day and Clare Fisher, another mover and shaker, provided a post-recital cake.

Lisney, who introduced the works with bonhomie, began with some uncomplicated Mozart, which was played straightforwardly and judiciously pedalled while allowing the ‘dark’ into the ‘light’ with some unexpected harmonic changes. With a full clutch of repeats and a lucid approach, the ‘soup of the day’ (The Red Hedgehog is also a cafeteria) was a light consommé.

Perhaps surprisingly, the first set of Schubert’s Impromptus was the meat. Far removed from this music’s salon and encore connotations, Lisney, playing the sequence without interruption, revealed this collection as dramatic, dynamically wide-ranging, emotionally urgent and harmonically complex. However rapid – and some tempos were above the ‘norm’ – Lisney’s always-shapely playing and his obvious involvement in the music brought many rewards, not least how ‘vocal’ and personal these pieces are, each imbued with a sense of theatre. This was magnificent Schubert-playing from a musician deeply absorbed in creating a vivid narrative for the music.

Chopin’s B minor Sonata was more difficult to call. Technically, Lisney may have still been ‘recovering’ from the exertions placed upon him (and superbly managed) in the Schubert – for there wasn’t quite the heroic and mercurial command needed to capture the fullness of Chopin’s grand and wide-ranging design. That said, the lyrical writing (the first movement’s second subject and the third movement Largo, the latter forcefully dovetailed to the preceding scherzo) was beautifully and eloquently spun and there was a fine sense of resolution as the music rallied for the finale’s last lap to cap a performance that was structurally convincing (the repeat in the first movement observed) but not always reaching into the recesses of the music. Slightly too much of a sorbet (if the menu analogy is to be continued).

If an encore was not a surprise, the choice of piece was unexpected, maybe unprecedented. Lisney thought for a moment, offered no words, and then plunged into the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata in E (Opus 109). Movement by movement, a complete rendition was fashioned. (A superb liquor – three glasses’ worth.) A wonderful ‘of the moment’ performance, too, the first movement alluringly improvised while dealing with imponderables, the second alive with electricity and the sublime finale richly transporting. The most astonishing music of the afternoon.

“I just wanted to play something else”, said Lisney afterwards. And you can at The Red Hedgehog – it’s just like being at home with friends – even if the decorators are in at the moment (this is an evolving venue)! – the sort of place to escape from the world outside.

  • The Red Hedgehog
  • The Red Hedgehog is situated at 255-257 Archway Road, Highgate, London, N6 5BS
  • Box Office: 020 8348 5050

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