This is a stunning recital from Tonya Lemoh. The repertoire is largely romantic: a good balance between extremely well-known pieces and those that are just a little less popular at this time.
The recital gets off to a fine start with Johannes Brahms. The heartbreakingly beautiful Three Intermezzi Op.117 are late works written whilst the composer was residing in Bad Ischl during 1892. They were composed at a time when Brahms had lost his sister Elsie and his close friend Elisabeth von Herzogenberg. These Intermezzi are amongst the most popular of Brahms’ piano pieces with more than ninety versions currently available on CD. The composer described them as ‘lullabies to my sorrows’. The set is prefaced by a quotation from the Scottish poem ‘Lady Anne Bothwell’s Lament’: ‘Sleep softly my child, sleep softly and well! /It hurts my heart to see you weeping.’ The range of mood across these three pieces is surprisingly diverse, in spite of their largely introspective and melancholic source. The first in E flat major is based on a ‘charming’ folk tune; the middle-section is darker and explores the ‘deeper’ registers of the piano. The second Intermezzo in B flat minor is more complex; almost a miniature sonata movement with the second subject derived from the first. The final piece in C sharp minor was possibly inspired by another folksong. This time the story of a woman reflecting on the happy times in her life before being deserted by her husband.
Clara Schumann wrote that these works are ‘… a veritable fountain of pleasure: everything, poetry, passion, rapture, heartfelt emotion full of the most wonderful tonal effects.’ Brahms’ Op.117 is not ‘technically challenging’, however the interpretive element is extremely demanding for pianists. Maurice Hinson has suggested that they have to have a complete understanding of Brahms’ piano repertoire prior to Op.117 if they are to be played as the composer imagined them. Tonya Lemoh brings this understanding to these moving and beautiful pieces.
Franz Liszt’s Transcendental Studies had their genesis in a set of exercises the sixteen year old composer had written in 1826 which were published in 1837. They were suppressed and were re-worked, finally reappearing in 1852 with a dedication to Carl Czerny. These studies are quite definitely for the most ‘advanced’ of pianists. Harmonies du Soir (Evening Harmonies) is really a ‘nocturne’ based on complex arpeggios, huge ‘expansive chords and floated melodies’. There is a massive peroration which demands a powerful and accurate technique with its ‘bravura octaves and chords’. The disparity between the climax and the quiet tranquil end is particular bewitching. It receives a stunning performance here.
Liszt wrote six Consolations in 1850. They became, and have remained, some of the most popular pieces by Liszt in particular and of romantic music in general. Ms Lemoh presents the third and fourth of the pieces. No.3 in D flat is a Nocturne with nods to John Field and Chopin. It is restrained and thoughtful. The fourth Consolation is less often heard than the previous one. There is a sense of ‘churchiness’ about this melancholy piece that suggest it could almost be an organ voluntary. At present there are 108 recordings of No.3 and only eleven of No.4; that gives some idea of their relative popularity. It is good that it is performed here.
The final piece of Liszt here is the sixth number from the ‘Swiss Album’ (1855) from the huge piano cycle Années de Pèlerinages - ‘The Years of Wandering’. After musical evocations of ‘Wm. Tell’s Chapel’, ‘The Lake at Wallenstadt’ and a ‘Storm’ Liszt presents a scene from a romantic novel by Etienne Senancour, the ‘pessimistic, though philosophical’ French writer. It is typically romantic in mood, exploring the journey of personal transformation ‘through struggle and transcendental experience’. This is a dramatic tone-poem indeed - it has been called the ‘Tristan’ of piano music. A fine performance.
The last composer represented in this splendid recital is Enrique Granados. I do appreciate that The Maiden and the Nightingale is a hackneyed work, but it is one of my favourites. My baseline is Eileen Joyce’s 1937 recording. For many it will be Alicia de Larrocha’s interpretation (review ~ review ~ review). This piece is the most popular of the great suite Goyescas, composed in 1911. It is essentially a ‘rhapsody’ which explores one theme in great detail. There is an improvisatory feel to much of this music that demands freedom of expression in its repetition. Lemoh gives this beautiful piece a superlative performance: I will not be throwing my Joyce recording away, but this version will be my chosen ‘modern’ track.
The Escenas Románticas are less well known than the Goyescas, which is a pity, because they are decidedly attractive miniatures that command our attention. They were premiered in 1904. There are six short pieces from which Lemoh has chosen the third and the final numbers. The Lento con extasis has been given the soubriquet The Poet and the Nightingale. Once more this is rhapsodic music that explores a somewhat melancholy mood. The Epilogo is pure nostalgia: Chopin is the model. It brings to a close an interesting and often moving recital.
Tonya Lemoh was born in Sydney, Australia. She began playing the piano at five years old and subsequently studied in Tasmania, London and Sierra Leone. At seventeen she entered the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. She has gained degrees from the University of Cincinnati, and the Royal Aarhus Conservatorium. She was staff accompanist at the Boston Conservatory between 1999 and 2001. After winning many awards she became a member of the piano faculty at the University of Copenhagen. As a pianist she has toured widely, playing concertos and giving chamber music concerts and solo recitals. Her recordings include works by Chopin, Liszt, Charles Griffes and Alberto Ginastera on ClassicO. Lemoh’s Chandos disc featuring the music of Joseph Marx was acclaimed by reviewers. For Dacapo she has recorded a selection of the piano music of Danish composer, Svend Erik Tarp.
I cannot rate this CD highly enough. The repertoire is perfectly chosen. The playing is masterful and inspiring and the sound quality is ideal. I hope to hear much more from Tonya Lemoh in the future.