Piers Lane: Metamorphoses – 1 (Transformations)

Toccata in C minor, BWV911
Nocturnes, Op.27
Prelude, Chorale and Fugue
Grande Sonate (Les quatre âges), Op.33 – Quasi Faust
Sonata in B minor

Piers Lane (piano)

Programmes devised by Ateş Orga

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 24 January, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

I am open-minded about concerts designed around ‘concepts’. On the one hand, it is good to remind ourselves that music exists within a cultural and intellectual context, and it is certainly fruitful to highlight the importance of motivic transformation. The piano as an instrument is indissolubly bound up with Romanticism, the movement that saw such transformations as the mechanism linking the ever-changing renewal of tradition with the eternity of the human spirit and the unity of history. Ateş Orga’s written notes were conventionally informative, but also couched in a style reminiscent of seventies post-structualism, as if to emphasize the allusive, fluid nature of the concepts he had foregrounded.

It is also good to think afresh about the most familiar repertoire. The two other recitals in the “Metamorphoses” series are themed as ‘Obsession’ and ‘Masks’ and include such icons of Romanticism as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata and Schumann’s Carnaval and Fantasy.

At the same time, the theoretical component of such apperception can be impractically remote from the emotional pleasure of actually listening to music. The disconnected and sprightly encores, for example, an Air and Gigue by Lully, demonstrated that music makes sense in its own terms – or indeed the listener can make his or her own connections, untrammelled by any theoretical framework.

Whether in Bach or Liszt, Piers Lane has an impeccable sense of structure and of dynamic and tonal gradation; it says much for his playing that so intractable a programme was never boring. Above all, Lane’s playing is clear, both in bringing out the different voices within dense textures (witness for example the carefully crafted control over different colours in the Bach or the beautifully worked enharmonic transition between the two Nocturnes), and in expounding the evolution of complex forms. The Franck was particularly successful in this respect, expertly sewn together into a seamless whole. Nor did Lane ever resort to superficial display in what was, after all, an archetypal Romantic programme; he Alkan came across as more melodically pleasing rather than merely the vehicle for pianistic fireworks.

There were certainly moments when Lane could have taken greater risks: he made little of the fantasy-like Adagio interpolation in the Bach; the Nocturnes lacked the last ingredient of fantasy; and the Liszt was musical and satisfying rather than transcendent. In this grandest of sonatas, Lane remained true to the theme of the recital; above all, he was anxious to mould the sense of an organic connection between the different elements of the piece.

This recital, then, had a whiff of the didactic; it was well thought-out without ever quite attaining that Romantic ideal of music transforming not just itself, but the soul. But, overall, this was an extremely demanding programme, played with authoritative assurance.

  • Piers Lane continues his recitals on 14 February and 14 March
  • Wigmore Hall

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