In his introductory words to the audience, Timothy Young lightly referred to his recital program as a feast comprising an entrée (Scriabin), a main course (Mussorgsky) and a couple of “afters” (Novacek & Kieran Harvey). The extraordinary meal served to us, however, was enough to scare most masterchefs right out of the kitchen.
In Adele Schonhardt’s welcoming words, she briefly thanked Kawai for their central role in allowing Australian Digital Concert Hall to have presented now more than 560 concerts and raising more than $3 million for musicians since the launch of ADCH. The Kawai grand piano certainly stood up well tonight, as it was given one of its hottest and most formidable workouts during Young’s “musical feast”, fully described in his excellent program notes as dramatic, mystical, complex, virtuosic, frenetic and hyperkinetic. So true.
Composed in 1903, Scriabins’ bold two-movement Sonata No 4, Op. 30 first took us to the passionate and Romantic past, with the opening Andante enticing the audience as it explored an abundance of free high floating trills and soft repeated patterns. Dreamy Parisienne sensual textures, and pretty rising questioning phrases were played with such crystal clear tones in a heartfelt way as the music unexpectedly developed into an unrestrained, athletic whirlwind for the Prestissimo Volando where Scriabin’s audiences would have felt he was breaking the bounds of conventional harmony. And he was.
For this Sonata, Scriabin wrote a poem describing flight to a distant star:
“Now joyfully I fly upward to you, freely I take wing, mad dance, godlike play, I draw near in my longing.” A growing whirlwind of wide-ranging arpeggios and voluminous chords escalated the lust, passion and voracity of this harmonically ground-breaking piece. We too felt we were in a flying whirlwind, holding our breath. Anticipating the resolution.
Recognised for his fine endurance, stamina and ability to sustain prolonged concentrated effort, and outstanding musicianship, Young showed no sign of feeling the heat from this musical kitchen. There was no mopping of the brow as he continued to serve up a true epic in piano literature, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.
Young certainly brought out the personality of each of the “pictures”, astounding us with his production of full orchestral timbres and powerful sonorities. Quite beautiful were the effective contrasts in energy, movement and intense tone colour for each of the repeated “Promenades”, such a well-known linking passage, so colourfully and uniquely presented tonight. In Young’s hands The Gnome was frighteningly grotesque, with giant-like sounds and steely-lightning strikes demanded from the piano, and Bydlo, the oxen cart, similarly brought powerful, dark, loud and compulsive chords to the earthy scene. We could see, taste and smell the shadows and authentic historical atmosphere of The Old Castle in these quintessential musical portraits, and feel the loss of rhythm, life and hope with the sustained and fading tones of Catacombae as deathly chords struck slow, spaced final blows.
What followed this main feast, was designed for an audience with a truly huge appetite. Young introduced the next works, both composed in 2020, by two special and highly illustrious friends, brilliant pianists John Novacek and Michael Kieran-Harvey.
Winner of International Piano competitions, and a widely performed and recorded orchestral composer, Novacek’s personality can be hinted at with earlier piano pieces entitled Hog Wild, Cockles and Melancholy Drag. He made his piano solo version of Trio Malenita (originally commissioned for Ensemble Liaison in 2020) especially for Timothy Young – listed tonight as Dance-Rondo “Bermudez.” Columbian clarinettist Bermudez excelled in Columbian dance rhythms, especially the fandango – music to transcend everyday realities. Young revelled in the virtuosic flight of a colourful, spiky joyride. There were wild cross-rhythms, fantastic blends of rags and modern bossa flavours, always displaying technical virtuosity and contemporary adventure. There were few resting places in this dance.
Almost hand-in-hand came the next equally astonishing and spectacular work. Commissioned by Graeme Lee as a response to 17 prints and 17 texts, or aphorisms, the visual, textual and musical interpretation resulted in 17 Sonata movements composed by Kieran-Harvey during the 2020 pandemic. Clive O’Connell’s description is perfect: “The compositional patterns are mind-bogglingly complex”. Young described the concept of the number 17 being the only prime number to be made of 4 consecutive primes – 2,3,5,7 – as this piece, entitled 17 Fitzroy Jazz 11, used these “figures” throughout the Sonata. Adventurous, creative, unique in design, and technically astonishing, Young again revelled in sharing a wild and spectacular, physically engaging rhythmic work.
I confess, my jaw did drop and froze in astonishment as the work progressed, it’s closing bars being a triumphant tour de force greeted by an audience standing with shouts of Bravo! This was a powerful display of powerful piano repertoire.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Mysticism and Pictures”, a piano recital performed by Timothy Young as part of the Kawai Piano Series at the Athenaeum Theatre 2 on July 21, 2022.