Piers Lane: Metamorphoses – 3 (Masks)

Papillons, Op.2
16 Waltzes, Op.39
Symphonic Metamorphosis on Die Fledermaus
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Carnaval, Op.9

Piers Lane (piano)

Programmes devised by Ateş Orga

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 14 March, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

This was an evening of “waltz and carnival … masked individuals and withheld identities … nostalgia, disguise, renewal” … and, as Jean Paul Richter observed, “through the masked ball, man poeticises his life and himself.”

Piers Lane is a performer of electric vitality. He has no interest in acting this out – to compete with the would-be thespian pianists. He has no need to: Lane’s drive, flamboyance and versatility are in his fingers.

Lane is a virtuoso, though, and exhibits his glittering gifts with panache and self-assurance. His gave a prime performance of Godowsky’s showpiece based on Johann Strauss’s operetta tunes. To the manner born, Lane played the combination of Strauss’s simple waltz and Godowsky’s fiendish passages to a bravura coda. There was humour; there were nods towards Richard Strauss and Wagner; and some fleeting, self-consciously ‘modern’ harmonies – awkward, grim and wry. From Lane’s hands, the piece had forward movement, with neither self-indulgence, nor flab.

The waltzes from Brahms and Ravel were a sober delight. Lane played them with exemplary clarity and a slightly removed air. Many of Brahms’s Waltzes are brief; perhaps it was wise not to promise much by way of warmth and emotion, to keep the playing cool. Yet I missed something sensual; the Ravel very clear indeed, but no hint of headily aromatic vagueness. I also found Lane’s occasional forcefulness muscular rather than steely. His pianissimos were astonishing, though.

Schumann opened and closed the recital. In both sets of pieces, Lane switched from one style to another, from one mood to another, with great adaptability – the music requires no less. In general, he was rather more at home with movements exemplifying the wilful roister of Florestan than the shyness of Eusebius – though the hushed stillness of the Eusebius movement in Carnaval was marvellously rapt. Lane dispensed rapture and beauty, too, as well as brashness, a hushed tone as well as the vividness of the fairground. He is less at home with heartbreak and vulnerability – with Schumann’s sudden, gentle stabs of pain. Yet there was enough here to attest to Schumann being one of the greatest writers for piano, switching indelibly and unforgettably from mask to mask, from tragic to comic, from ardent to grotesque.

For encores – entirely appropriately – we had the lilt of a couple more waltzes – the second one definitely by Chopin, the first one possibly not. They rounded off the evening as comfortably as a couple of high-quality mints following a meal of superb and splendid gastronomy.

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