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Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer clearly doesn't believe in always taking the obvious route when choosing repertoire. On this occasion - Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, 5 March 2023 - Khachaturian and Sibelius rubbed shoulders with the more expected Mozart and Robert Schumann.
Khachaturian's Poem, a piece from his student years, features on Sughayer's recent CD devoted to the composer. His assured command of its expressive range took in both the energy-rush of the opening and the moments of stillness. Harmonic echoes of Ravel in the early stages were completely integrated into the work's fabric, the later song-like theme was gently floated, and the isolated final notes picked out delicately.
Mozart's Piano Sonata in G, K 283, is one of his first published group of six. Following his pert, lively account of the opening movement, Sughayer maintained a gentle motion through the second, before his infectiously frisky way with the finale. His subtle dynamic shadings were always apt to the music's scale. It's a pity that he did not observe any repeats in the first and last movements, but this was a captivating performance. all the same.
Even some of Sibelius's most ardent admirers have had doubts about his solo piano music, including suggestions that it's not always very well written for the instrument. Sughayer clearly doesn't agree, as was instantly clear from the way he launched 'Impromptu', the first of the composer's Ten Pieces, Op 24, highlighting the opening's startling reminiscence of Schubert's 'Der Erlkönig'. In No 2, 'Romance', his playing was particularly eloquent at low dynamic levels, and the high-lying passage at the end was disarmingly delicate. In No 3, 'Caprice', he made the repeated-note figures sound positively guitar-like. He steered a sure course between turbulence and melancholy in No 4, a second 'Romance', bringing out echoes of the more ruminative moments in Tchaikovsky's The Seasons. Finally in this group, he showed a winning, debonair, almost operetta-ish, way with No 5, 'Valse'. For all the unfamiliarity of the medium, there were plenty of moments when Sibelius's familiar personality was recognisable, with remniscences of Symphonies 1 and 2, in particular.
What did Schumann mean by the title Faschingsschwank aus Wien? One obvious 'carnival joke from Vienna' is the first movement's cheeky reference to 'La Marseillaise', at a time when the song was banned there. In spite of the programme-note's claim to the contrary, it came over loud and clear, carried on the surge of Sughayer's impetuous opening. Running figures sometimes lost a little clarity, but there was no denying the performance's fierce energy. This was balanced with gentle inwardness in the second movement, and a playful account of the third. From an imposing start to No 4, we were led to a beautifully soft ending. The final movement also began in an imposing frame of mind, but Sughayer's playing was soon full of nervy, buzzing energy. His relaxed way with the second theme was the perfect contrast, and he brought a defiant air to the work's final stages.
As an encore, he gave us more Khachaturian: the gentle Andantino from his Children's Album, Book 1.
Copyright © 11 March 2023