Six Minuets, WoO 10
Six Variations on an original theme in F, Op. 34
Leslie Howard (piano)
Reviewed by: Robert Matthew-Walker
Reviewed: 30 April, 2008
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
It was a measure of the compelling nature of Leslie Howard’s artistry that a large audience was drawn to Wigmore Hall, and made up of many distinguished musicians and pianists from amongst the cognoscenti, attracted by the prospect of great pianism allied to musicianship that was as breathtaking in its virtuosity as it was revelatory in its grasp of the music.
Beethoven’s six short Minuets, dating from his early years in Vienna, can surely never have been offered as a concert item in the 213 years since they were composed. At once, with this fine pianist, we were drawn into Beethoven’s world, a world which demonstrated beyond argument that even in these tiny works, suggested no doubt by an aspect of the prevailing Viennese social world, that Beethoven could never be other than Beethoven. In this regard, Leslie Howard proved himself the ideal interpreter. One remains astonished that these are not better-known, except No.2, beloved of all amateurs who have tackled “Beethoven’s Celebrated Minuet in G”.
The F major Variations are more familiar, but are not as frequently encountered as such quality demands; a truly remarkable set, and – mindful of Schnabel’s pioneering recording from the 1930s – one doubted if any pianist currently before the public could have embraced the range of expression in this work as did Howard in this performance.
Yet it is with Liszt that Leslie Howard is synonymous, and – ending his recital on a completely different tack – we had the Twelve Transcendental Studies. From the opening gesture we were left in no doubt of Howard’s complete virtuosity in music that, truth to tell, at times exhibits characteristics of the circus but which, under the surface glitter, offers so much more in depth of musical experience. The awesome technical difficulties of this music forbid frequent live performance, but Howard proved conclusively that there is much more in this astounding collection than many pianists are minded to discover. For examples, ‘Paysage’ and ‘Mazeppa’ – the latter demanding the most comprehensive of virtuoso techniques – were outstandingly well played to a level that one would be hard pressed to name another pianist who could equal, let along surpass, Howard’s playing throughout on this occasion.
This was comprehensively flawless pianism from a true master of the instrument. More than mere virtuosity, this seemed to recreate the very inspiration that originally brought this music into being. After such towering music-making, Howard’s two encores, from Czerny’s School of Velocity (Opus 299), subtly bridged the gap between Beethoven and Liszt – Beethoven taught Czerny who in turn taught Liszt. It was equally revelatory to hear these pieces at the right tempo – they almost never are, despite Czerny having gone to the trouble of affixing metronome marks.