Gold standard pianism
Review by WILLIAM CHARLTON-PERKINS
Concert: PhD Recital
Date: 24 August 2018
Venue: Howard College Theatre (UKZN)
Soloist: Andrew Warburton (Piano)
Andrew Warburton’s PhD recital in Durban on Friday (24 August 2018) offered the audience a concert experience characterized by deeply reflective music-making, coupled with the visceral extremes of supreme keyboard virtuosity.
To open, the pianist reprised his acclaimed rendering Beethoven's taxing group of Six Bagatelles Opus 126, first heard in this venue during a SASMT gala concert in April. Revisiting this music proved a masterstroke of programming. I can only return the compliment by expressing appreciation for the further interpretive insight in evidence here, following the pianist’s earlier account of what I described at the time as a ‘miraculous microcosm of a lifetime's musical outpouring contained in the great German composer's final music for solo piano’.
Essaying these pieces’s lightening-swift mood swings, their vast dynamic range both belying their brevity and typifying the jagged extremes of late Beethoven, enabled the pianist seamlessly to flex himself and to ease his audience into what proved to be the heart of the programme, the composer’s Olympian Piano Sonata in E Major Opus 109.
Dispatching with élan the fantasia-like rigours of the work’s tumultuous opening movement, punctuated by its sudden dynamic interludes of stillness, Warburton followed with an equally assured account of the second movement Prestissimo, with its headlong rush of momentum. The pianist then plunged the house into a profoundly significant interval of suspended silence, before entering the great work’s spiritual centre - its third movement, marked Andante moto cantabile ed espressivo.
For posterity to contemplate the miracle of music of such heart-rending beauty – created in Beethoven’s soundless world of sheer physical deafness – is to confront divinity. With consummate technical mastery and deep musical insight, Warburton traced its trajectory from the simplicity of its opening chords, through the rising elation of its variously paced variations, before returning to its sublime point of departure.
To have ended the evening thus would have sent one home on an emotional high. What followed after interval took on the character of an electrifying display of high-wire pianism, as Warburton sailed through a bravura steeplechase of concert show-stoppers. Making light of Ravel’s exquisitely wrought Sonatine, with its enchantingly simple first two movements, offset by its dazzling Animé close, the pianist vividly brought to life the same composer’s ebullient evocation of the classical court jester, in his magnificently descriptive Alborado del Gracioso.
Bringing the audience to its feet, Warburton rounded his programme off with Granados’s iconic Allegro de Concierto – the Spanish composer’s winning showpiece submitted for a composition competition of the Royal Conservatory in Madrid in 1903.
Well worth a second hearing, this remarkable marathon feat will be repeated when Andrew Warburton appears at next month’s Hilton Arts Festival, also performing a programme of art songs by Dvorak, Rachmaninoff and Obradors with soprano Vanessa Tait-Jones, and a programme of Piano Quartets by Dvorak and Faure with leading string players of the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, Violeta Osorhean (violin), David Snaith (viola) and Aristide Du Plessis (cello). Visit https://www.hiltonfestival.co.za
[Photo of Andrew Warburton by Val Adamson]