The Piano and Lake Lucerne – Wigmore Hall 15 July

Sonata pugnifera, Op.157 #
Sonatina in C #
Chapelle de Guillaume Tell (Années de pèlerinage – Première année: Suisse)
Rondo capriccioso, Op.14
Vernissage #
Étude-tableaux in E flat minor, Op.39/5
Preludes, Opp.23 & 32 (selection)
Vormärzliche Walzer (selection) #
Étude in C sharp minor, Op.42/5
Preludes Op.11 (selection)

# UK première

Patrizio Mazzola (piano) with Marah Mahlowe (narrator)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 15 July, 2002
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

On paper this programme looked enticing. In reality, it was less so. A simple written note explaining that these pieces had a link, however tenuous, with Lake Lucerne would have sufficed – Mendelssohn composed his Op.14 just before visiting the place (and drew the cover illustration); Scriabin was there for medication; Rachmaninov lived there for a while, and Fischer spent his final years there. Difficult to think the surroundings made any difference to the music. Anyway, Rachmaninov’s preludes were written long before he arrived in Switzerland in 1931! Mazzola might, therefore, have chosen the Corelli Variations, although he failed in his selection to find the recesses of Rachmaninov’s expression and therefore the true identity of this most soulful of composers; the B flat prelude (Op.23/2), in particular, severely taxed Mazzola, the music limping and inarticulate.

That Mazzola seemed to relax for his encore, the first of Chopin’s Op.25 études, suggested a more inward and poetic player than was heard in the recital proper. However, his reliance on the sustaining pedal, especially ruinous in the Mendelssohn where harmonic haze replaced keyboard delicacy, rather muddied the textures elsewhere, especially in the Russian pieces.

Of the two native composers, the shades-of-grey Sonata pugnifera of Caspar Diethelm (1926-1997) mixed Hindemithian formalism and Prokofiev-like pugnaciousness – not a choice for a Swiss Tourist Board promotional video. Maria Niederberger (born 1949, now living in the States and present tonight) organised the 12 notes well enough if anonymously, except when she invoked Debussy.

It appears that Edwin Fischer, the great pianist and mentor (not least of Alfred Brendel), wrote but one piece for his instrument; it is short and sweet with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven in attendance. It was Brendel that I thought of in the Liszt, called Tellskapelle in the programme; you need more artistry for the trills than Mazzola brought.

The recital’s highlight was the waltzes by Richard Rosenberg (1894-1987) who took refuge in Switzerland from Germany. Light and good-natured, Rosenberg’s pastiche twinned Billy Mayerl and Poulenc; nicely played too.

Marah Mahlowe’s contribution was limited to opening the evening, the second half and providing one link. Perhaps each work should have been prefaced by something anecdotal, and certainly Mazzola should have been on the platform while she was setting the scene.

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