Thursday, 27 February 2020

Pianist Iyad Sughayer in Khachaturian, Mozart and Liszt for the City Music Foundation

Iyad Sughayer
Iyad Sughayer
Khachaturian, Mozart, Liszt; Iyad Sughayer; City Music Foundation at St Bartholomew the Great
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 26 February 2020 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
The young Jordanian-Palestinian pianist reveals an impressive ability to empathise with a diverse group of composers, from Mozart to Liszt to Khachaturian

The Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer, currently a City Music Foundation (CMF) artist, gave a concert at the Church of St Bartholomew the Great yesterday (26 February 2020) as part of the CMF's regular lunchtime recital series. Sughayer recently released a disc of Aram Khachaturian's piano music [see my review], so it was appropriate the Sughayer started with Khachaturian's Poem, followed by Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 18 in D major K 576, and a selection from Liszt's Harmonies poétiques et religieuses S 173.



Khachaturian's Poem is an early work, dating from 1927 only a few years after he had switched to studying music (he had moved to Moscow from Georgia to study biology). It is a rhapsodic piece with a touch of the exotic in the musical material, reflecting Khachaturian's heritage (he was born in Georgia to an Armenian family). The music fluidly flows, and Khachaturian's style included plenty of moments which really flexed pianistic muscles.

Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 18 dates from 1789 and is probably one of a set of six that he wrote for Princess Friederike of Prussia. That 'probably' arises because in a letter, Mozart said he was writing six easy sonatas for the Princess, but No. 18 is hardly easy, so commentators disagree with some suggesting that Mozart may have thought it was easy. Sughayer began with a perkily delightful Allegro with plenty of crisply engaged playing which gave the music real personality, and he fair zipped along too. The Adagio featured a lovely singing right hand over supportive left, playing that had fine tone and line, but presence too. The finale was full of character and wit, with a smile at the end; again it zipped along. Throughout the sonata, Sughayer brought great presence to the music whilst keeping within the classical style.

For the final group of three pieces from Liszt's 1847 Harmonies poétiques et religieuses we had another change of style and mood. Written at the country estate of Liszt's mistress, Princess Carolyne of Sayn-Wittgenstein, the pieces were inspired by the poetry of Alphonse de Lamartine. Invocation, the first movement of the set, was big-boned and rhapsodically romantic, starting with an incessant throbbing and developing into something highly complex, moments with fistfuls of notes morphed into delicate transparency. Andante lagrimoso, the penultimate movement was more gentle with rich harmonies and an expressive singing right-hand melody. Cantique d'amour, the last movement) featured a chromatic melodic line embedded in a delicate web of arpeggios, and impressive pianistic feat.

I have to confess to being unfamiliar with these delightful pieces, and listening I was reminded of other, more familiar Liszt works such as the strenuous piano writing in the Tannhauser Overture concert paraphrase, or the complex melodiousness of the Petrarch Sonnets. Throughout the Liszt, Sughayer made all the complexities seem obvious and effortless.

The CMF lunchtime recitals normally take place at the Church of St Bartholomew the Less, but there is no room there for a piano, so Iyad Sughayer's recital took place at nearby St Bartholomew the Great, where CMF had use of the City Music Society's fine Steinway grand piano which lives in the church.

The CMF lunchtime recitals continue on 18 March 2020 with a concert by the folk-singer, Iona Fyfe.

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