Julian Evans Recital – 6 July

Fantasy on a theme of Liszt (1967)
Bénédiction de Dieu dans la Solitude
Les jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este
Fantasy and Fugue on the theme BACH
Sonata No.9 (Black Mass)
Vers la flamme
Fantasy in C, D780 (Wanderer)

Julian Evans (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 6 July, 2003
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

If a genie appeared to Julian Evans from a bottle, I suspect he would ask to be a reincarnation of Liszt. With formidable technique, especially in octaves, indefatigable energy, showmanship and a heavyweight programme, Evans seems to model himself on his great virtuoso master. Evans even sits very high at the piano, as Liszt did, and included Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, a favourite of Liszt’s.

The recital began, appropriately then, with John McCabe’s Fantasy on a theme of Liszt, in the composer’s approving presence, a performance in which Evans’s ability to sustain a melodic line through a forest of notes and to play with consistent brilliance and fast fingers were immediately apparent. Both the piece’s modernity and its conscious derivation from Liszt were impeccably conveyed. As a showcase for Evans’s virtues, it was unsurpassed in the remainder of the recital. For the rest of the first half, Evans elaborated on these virtues – easily alternating between lyricism and brilliance in the Liszt, and storming through the arcane post-romanticism of Scriabin with great competence, albeit more grimness than grace.

After the interval, the Schubert, although the composer’s only virtuoso piano piece, betrayed a lack of depth concealed by the profusion of notes. There were beautiful moments, notably in the slow movement, and in the expertly judged transitions, but no real sense in which Evans confronted its structural problems or gave it a distinctive idiom. Nor did the Villa d’Este fountains truly shimmer – whereas the literal representation of endless streams of notes suits Evans well, impressionism seems beyond him.

The BACH fantasy has apparently been the performer’s showpiece for many years; it is a staggering test of a pianist’s technique. Again, Evans passed with flying colours, although what might have dazzled us in the first moments of the recital felt like bombardment by the end.

With so generous a programme, it seems a shame to complain of indigestion – but almost two hours of relentlessly virtuoso music was simply too much of a good thing. Perhaps even the performer had reached his limit, as an extremely untidy and laboured Chopin Polonaise (Op.53) encore seemed to indicate. As a feat of endurance and athleticism, then, this recital was an unqualified success; in terms of originality and imagination of interpretation, Julian Evans has still to look beyond his steel fingers.

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