Alexandra Dariescu at Freshwater

13 Nov

On Saturday 9th November 2012, Romanian concert pianist Alexandra Dariescu returned to Freshwater, Isle of Wight to perform at the Memorial Hall. Her programme included Beethoven, Scarlatti, Schumann and Chopin, so covering three different musical periods and styles. The pieces chosen were all demanding, underlining Ms Dariescu’s status as a highly accomplished pianist.

The concert was arranged by the West Wight Arts Association and the audience was comprised mainly of persons on average about a third as old as some of the pieces performed. In contrast, the young pianist, resplendent in a scintillating dress and sporting a genuine smile, exuded youth and energy, both applied to good effect in the opening Beethoven Sonata No 6 in F major Op 10 No. 2, an early piece and the shortest of the early sonatas. The work displayed Beethoven’s sense of fun as well as his virtuosity as a performer. Ms Dariescu responded accordingly, impressing particularly during the complex passages in the 3rd (Presto) movement.

This was followed by a most refined and emotionally rich rendering of a Scarlatti Sonata in F minor; one apparently of 20 in that key out of a mind-boggling corpus of 555 keyboard sonatas. For me this was the highlight of the concert, revealing a touching, subtle beauty in what is a seemingly simple musical form. The pianist took our aesthetic sensibilities on a meaningful, personal journey. I simply did not realise that Scarlatti could sound like this: not at all repetitive but with each recurring phrase treated differently, the pianist creating a most satisfying experience. It called to mind Benjamin Grosvenor’s treatment of a Bach Partita at a recent concert; perhaps experimental but inventive and capable of holding the interest of younger audiences (of which more later in this blog).

The last piece before the interval was Schumann’s Fantasiestücke Op 12. A contemporary and friend of Chopin and a promoter of Beethoven, one can perhaps discern influences of both in this work. The Fantasiestücke were for me difficult to follow, albeit full of beautiful sounds. Considering the complexity of the composer’s mind and the tragedies in his personal life it is perhaps not surprising that at times the force of the musical ideas tumbling over one another seem to overwhelm the basic structure. That said, Ms Dariescu’s talent and accomplishment were more than up to the task of performing this work with panache and confidence.

After the interval, during which, inexplicably, someone thought it appropriate to hold a raffle, the prizes arrayed beneath the glorious Steinway like cheap gifts around a Christmas tree, Ms Dariescu performed the entire Chopin 24 Preludes Op 28. She did this with complete success and, despite her relative youth, a mature understanding of the wonderfully broad range of musical themes that the composer explored during his ill-fated sojourn in Mallorca in the winter of 1838-39. As with Schumann, the ideas are diverse and complex but in the hands of the Polish master they are never out of control, always underpinned by a solid structure and possessed of an outstanding integrity, simplicity and power to affect the hearts of people of every kind. Performing all 24 Preludes must be a formidable task for any pianist but Ms Dariescu never flagged and completed the final Allegro Appassionato with a powerful, triumphant flourish down to the low, low D. Cannon in flowers indeed.

In summary, Alexandra Dariescu is a formidable talent and a very watchable performer. Her grace and presence at the piano are pleasing; her skill and mastery undoubted, her resourcefulness in the conveying of refined musical effects impressive. At the end of her performance the applause was warm and animated, to the extent possible among the ageing contingent present. Had knee and hip joints permitted, a standing ovation would have occurred but a vigorous stamping of feet sufficed.

Humour aside, I did wonder how the West Wight Arts Association is going to reach out to a younger audience for this kind of priceless musical experience. The ambience of the concert and venue had a bit too much of the Derby and Joan club and not enough excitement and sense of occasion. This was not helped by a 5-minute selling job at the beginning about upcoming events; a surprise call for a round of applause for the secretary or some such official of whom I and no doubt many others knew nothing; the interval raffle and the disorganised queues for refreshments and CD sales. The venue itself is ideally equipped for intimate concerts of this kind but a bit more imagination in pleasing the paying customers and setting an appropriate tone might widen the appeal.

LINKS:

West Wight Arts Association: http://www.west-wight-arts.co.uk/

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