Park Lane Group Young Artists Series – Bravo Beethoven! (3) [Plus a Surprise Work]

Polonaise in C, Op.89
Fifteen Variations and Fugue in E flat, Op.35 (Eroica)
Cheryl Frances-Hoad
My Fleeting Angel
Piano Sonata No.24 in F sharp, Op.78 (À Thérèse)
Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1/3

Alex Wilson (piano)

Lawson Piano Trio [Annabelle Lawson (piano), Fenella Humphreys (violin) & Rebecca Knight (cello)]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 July, 2012
Venue: St James’s Church, 197 Piccadilly, London W1

Reaching the mid-point in this five-concert Beethoven-plus series given under the auspices of the Park Lane Group, pianist Alex Wilson tackled three Beethoven pieces. It was partly his failure to respond to and work within the reverberant limitations of this acoustic that contributed to lacklustre if earnest performances. Overusing the sustaining pedal, which muddied textures even further, his interpretations rarely peered beyond the notes and some niggling technical errors only added to the shortcomings.

Lawson Piano Trio. Photograph: Mat SmithThe Polonaise begins with a flourish, then alludes to the ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto before arriving at formal exuberance, a roulade of notes for the performer to negotiate, some here lost to the pedal (time spent with Grigory Sokolov would be to Wilson’s advantage). Wilson could well have adopted a grander approach – this dance-form can take it – and his vehement way with the final chords was gratuitous.

The ‘Eroica’ Variations is a strong test of a pianist’s calibre. Unfortunately Wilson fell at some fences. The Theme (best-known for appearing in the finale of the ‘Eroica’ Symphony) was prosaically presented, the first few Variations lacking tension. Come Beethoven’s ‘wrong-note’ humour, Wilson banged them out and succeeded only in making the composer seem duff. There were some splashy moments in an account that leaned to the perfunctory, needed greater wit and lacked for Innigkeit in the quieter, lyrical commentaries. (A recent CD issue of a magisterial 1957 performance by Annie Fischer of this work illustrates what Wilson should be aiming for.)

Then it was ‘guess the composer’ time again. Rather fun! There were some wild guesses, all the nominated composers being dead (save the one criterion is that the creator is still alive), no-one coming up with Cheryl Frances-Hoad (born 1980) as the composer of My Fleeting Angel, for piano trio. It begins in lamenting terms, the strings in somewhat-ghostly unison before pulsating, jazzy material sets in leading to a lyrical climax; then comes a more-placid waltz-like idea and an ambiguous, unearthly coda. It’s an engaging piece, well-written and -constructed (with occasional echoes, whether intended or not, of Frank Bridge’s music) given in a performance that pleased the composer, as did the champagne that went unclaimed by any of the guessers. So far this week, in terms of bottles of bubbly, it’s Composers 4, Audience 0.

After the interval I moved from a front pew (seating is unreserved) to the back of the church to get away from a woman with numerous bangles on her left wrist that noisily and irritatingly infested the music whenever she moved or waved her fan (and she’s left-handed!). Alex Wilson returned for the short, two-movement Piano Sonata that Beethoven dedicated to Countess Therese von Brunsvik. Wilson continued to take no heed of the church’s clouding effect on sound. Some technical and/or memory difficulties during the first movement aside, overcome during repeats, a light touch and impishness was missed.

The Lawson Piano Trio dealt much better with auditory matters. Indeed the musicians gave a very considered, often arresting account of this weighty work, finding its daringness, thrust and consolation and integrating them into an expansive whole, all repeats observed. The ambitious scope of the outer movements was well-conveyed, so too the sentiment and scintillation of the slow movement’s Variations. The grave Minuet was far away from a glittering occasion, its Trio finding the cello emoting proudly and the piano’s runs glistening. This was a searching and dynamic performance.

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