Risto Lauriala

33 Variations on a Waltz by Diabelli, Op.120
5 Pieces for Piano (Trees), Op.75
24 Preludes, Op.28

Risto Lauriala (piano)

Reviewed by: Kenneth A. Clifford

Reviewed: 13 September, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Finnish pianist Risto Lauriala opened his Wigmore Hall recital with Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli Variations’ – a work he recorded for Alba in 1998.

It was an arresting performance from the outset. Lauriala demonstrated his innate understanding of the music’s form, structure and harmonic language with a perfectly measured balance between the hands, a good sense of timing and a massive dynamic range. The crystalline phrasing and voicing in the fugal writing was tremendous throughout. One of the major challenges in this work is the make everything relate – to keep things in context despite the constant changes in the music’s tempo, texture and character. Lauriala managed to link seamlessly the lively Variations with the phantasmagoric slow ones, and both his touch and dynamic contrasts in the final ‘Tempo di Menuetto’ were judged to perfection.

The second half of the programme saw Lauriala perform Five Piano Pieces by Sibelius. These unique miniatures are among his most popular works for piano and it’s not difficult to see why; and nature’s profound effect on Sibelius’s creative mind is further evidenced in ‘When the rowan tree blossoms’, ‘The lonely Pine’, ‘The Aspen’, ‘The Birch’ and ‘The Spruce’. Lauriala is a great ambassador for this music and he guided us through each distinctive scene with great feeling, tenderness and agility.

In an unusual turn of events, Lauriala then gave an aggressive and wildly insensitive account of Chopin’s 24 Preludes. Chopin’s tempo indications – such as Lento and Largo were ignored and Lauriala stormed through the Presto and Vivace Preludes as if he couldn’t wait to get over the finishing line. The third Prelude lacked charm and elegance, and the fifth, marked Allegro molto, was thrown off like a Cramer finger exercise. Yet more disturbing was Lauriala’s use of rubato – it was never used within the bar – rather it was spread over four causing melodic disorientation in the slower pieces. The Molto agitato (No.8) was laced with intrusive unmarked accents while the inner legato melody line was at best ‘serrated’. Sadly, the warm and expressive sound Lauriala had brought to the Beethoven was absent throughout – most notably in the later Preludes.

Nostalgic for the Lauriala of the first half, we did get one further glimpse of his masterful playing in a well-chosen encore – some Schubert arranged by Liszt.

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