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S & H Recital Review

Haskell Small: Poulenc, Mompou, Takemitsu, Ginastera, Purcell Room, 29th April 2002 (MB)


This recital, of which I was only able to attend the first half, prompts the question: does a pianist feel more comfortable playing in front of a small audience rather than a very large one? In the case of Mr Smallís recital we were firmly in the territory of the former (indeed, I counted no more than 30 people) and yet the sense of the pianistís nervousness was almost too uncomfortable to bear. This affected his pianism markedly throughout Poulencís Suite Française díaprès Claude Gervaise which suffered from uneven textures, and some wayward pedalling with often clangourous results. More unsettling was the monochromatic imagery, the quite distinct Poulencian dramaturgy somewhat delineated in favour of something far less appealing.

Mr Small began his recital with an unscheduled piece by Federico Mompou, "an aperitif" of sorts, and then launched immediately into the Poulenc Ė a mistake, which made those unfamiliar with the Poulenc wonder when it had started. Mompouís Charmes was better co-ordinated, with the disparate elements of the work well projected. If Pour inspirer líamour tempted me to think of Molière it was a short lived temptation for Mr Smallís command of what the keyboard can achieve in moments of exultation is limited. There were moments of incandescence, but they were too few to strike this as a memorable performance.

Takemitsuís Rain Tree Sketch and Alberto Ginasteraís Three Argentine Dances were both played by an entirely different pianist it seemed. The Takemitsu had a compelling, almost hypnotic, fragrance to it with the swelling of the music quite literally depicting the rain drops falling from the tree in the workís title. Better still was the Ginastera where Mr Smallís sense of rhythm was perfectly in touch with the South American mantra. Here he displayed a technique that was fully at the service of his imagination. If Danza del Gaucho Matrero seemed less like the Latinate rockíníroll which Mr Small suggested it might be this was not to the musicís detriment. There was considerable flair to the playing, but I remain disappointed that his first half programme did not contain more challenging intellectual repertoire.

I regretted being unable to stay for the performance of his own Symphony for Solo Piano a work which The Washington Post described as a piece "deserving a permanent place in the keyboard repertory". It may well have altered my opinion of this recital which frankly was not the revelation it might have been.

Marc Bridle




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