Friday 29 November 2013

Ivana Gavrić at the Wigmore Hall

Ivana Gavrić
Pianist Ivana Gavrić recently produced her third CD, of Grieg piano works, on the Champs Hill Records label and to launch the CD gave a lunchtime recital at the Wigmore Hall on 28 November performing Ravel, Janacek, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Greig.

Gavrić opened her recital with Maurice Ravel's Valse nobles et sentimentales. Premiered in Paris in 1911, the work was given anonymously and came in for some criticism with most of the audience failing to recognised it as the work of Ravel. Gavrić's performance of the piece had a wonderful flexibility with clarity of texture and transparency. Her delicate touch brought out the hints of Ma mere l'oye in some of the movements and gave a rippling delight in the faster sections. But this was poetry combined with technical facility and power when needed. The final waltz, with its reminiscences of previous material was a lovely phantasmagoria.

Janacek's Piano Sonata 1.x.1905, Z ulice (from the street) was inspired by the death of a young worker in an anti-German demonstration in his native Brno (then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Janacek lost confidence in the work, destroying the final movement entirely, but the manuscript of the first two was preserved by the pianist at the original premiere. The two movements are titled Presentiment and Death. Presentiment opened with Janacek's familiar folk-inspired but fragmented, jagged motifs, gradually combining into textures of real power, performed by Gavrić with great delicacy and poetry. She had a remarkable feel for Janacek's music, and gave a warmly poetic performance which was not as bleak as some. Death was a deeply felt and beautifully simple movement, which Gavrić made very haunting. Initially the familiar Janacek tropes are heard, but refracted through the pianistic medium, but the movement gets more intensely powerful.

Cheryl Frances-Hoad's Two Lyric Pieces were receiving their London premiere, they were written specially for Gavrić and come from a set of four each paying homage to a composer close to Gavrić (Janacek, Grieg, Ravel and Schubert). The first piece, In the Dew was described as an homage to Janacek and the second, Contemplation was an homage to Grieg; both were written in an imaginatively accessible tonal idiom. In the Dew opened with a light fast texture with a lovely syncopated feel to the rhythm, with a lyrical and thoughtful middle section which had overtones of Messiaen in the harmony. Contemplation was a slow lyric movement, with rich bu transparent harmonies, creating a rather magical texture.

 Gavrić followed this with a group Grieg pieces. First Butterfly (Lyric Pieces Op.43 No.1) and The Goblin's Bridal Procession (Slatter, Op.72 No.14). There was a lovely fluid flexibility to Gavrić's playing in Butterfly. In The Goblin's Bridal Procession she started with great delicacy but gradually building in power. There were moments of lovely transparency and some beautiful textures.

Grieg's Piano Sonata was written in 1865 and revised by the composer in 1887. It is a four movement work in which he seems a little constrained by the traditional classical form. The opening Allegro Moderato uses a theme based on Grieg's name, but the result sounds rather Germanic in style though the piece develops into a rather good, big tune. Gavrić gave a restrained performance, finely crafted rather than stormy. The Andante moderato was a movement of great lyric beauty, again developing into a lovely romantic tune. The third movement, Alla menuetto, was rather dark and not minuet-like at all; quite a powerful movement with a lovely transparent trio which hinted at the Lyric Pieces. The Finale saw Gavrić giving us some brilliant playing in a vivid performance. Though there were quiet poetic moments, the movement developed into very powerful and strong stuff.

We were treated to one encore, Grieg's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen. A delightful performance, technically at ease with a feel for the work's poetry and with a confident, bravura ending.

Neither the Grieg nor the Janacek sonatas are their strongest works, but Gavrić clearly has a feel for the music of both composers and in each case her performance had a remarkable transformative effect, making far more of the work than I had believed possible.

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