As the achievements of the 2020 Melbourne Digital Concert Hall program continue to amaze us, with 240 concerts and recitals in just 9 months bringing in close to one million dollars for musicians, we can applaud the MDCH directors’ plans to continue in 2021 with 200 concerts already planned. 5 Stream has to be also highly commended for their dedicated production and technical skills, as they launched a new world of live streaming for so many performers and audiences.
The illustrious and internationally acclaimed pianist, Timothy Young, shared his exceptional artistry with listeners in this magnificent recital, first introducing his repertoire with a warm and authoritative summary of the essential elements of the works, and his personal approach to connecting shorter pieces contextually. Highly interesting and engaging were the opening pieces by American innovator Henry Cowell (1897 – 1965) whose Aeolian Harp demonstrated his interest in exploring a new way of playing inside the strings of the instrument, with no hammers being used, as the performer swept and plucked gossamer like chords, reminiscent of the sounds of an autoharp and sweet Celtic folk music. Young gave us a sensitive and controlled rubato, delicately contrasting fragile dynamics in this experimental miniature.
Timelessly, a slow sparse final rising arpeggio provided a smooth segue into the opening extreme bass octaves of Cowell’s The Tides of Manaunaum from Three Irish Legends. Manaunaum was the god of motion, who, long before creation, sent forth tremendous tides of materials and particles to and fro through the universe. This Largo with Rhythm employed broad tone clusters created by use of the pianist’s whole left forearm and elbows to create terrifying darkness against right hand upper register chords adding fragments of possibilities. Sombre, dramatic and ponderous, the pounding left hand connected beautifully from this work to the lower imitative drumming drones of the first of Rameau’s 5 Selections from Pieces de Clavecin, Tambourin.
On today’s concert grand pianos, pianists are welcoming the chance to experiment and refresh Rameau’s keyboard pieces with varied colour and vision. Eighteenth century French composers loved their audiences having to visualise the images suggested in the titles of the music, and Young gave us a unique and classy interpretation of this set of pieces. Sharp vibrant rhythms added strength and edge to his metallic and bright tones for this well known colourful dance. Agitation in left hand octave leaps, dotted rhythms and chromatic flutters in Rappel des Oiseaux portrayed the spirited and fresh excitement of the incessant movement and conversations of the little birds. Les Tendres Plaintes (The Tender Cry), the first piece from Rameau’s Suite in D was spacious, spiritual, and simply heavenly, as Young gave us a fresh artistic interpretation with subtle but detailed ornamentation which never detracted from the lyrical melody line. Romantic, expressive, modest yet touching, Young’s elegance and delicate phrasing was a joy to hear. The Kawai grand piano allowed more strength and power than Rameau would have known with the clavecin, effectively allowing pianists to explore greater resonance and dynamics in the score of Les Tourbillons, particularly in the alternating episodes where gentle breezes blowing in the windmills contrasted with sections of storm and thunder.
Les Cyclopes musically describes the mythical one-eyed creatures who forge their weapons with driving hammer strokes represented by insistent single notes and melodic fragments between the alternating hands of the pianist, and repeated blows clearly seen and heard with hands crossing over each other in rapid staccato pulses.
Beautifully programmed, exciting, colourful and detailed in execution, Cowell and Rameau were immensely satisfying works which prefaced the big one – Rachmaninov’s great Sonata No 2 Op.36. Although it is structured in three movements, the composer has used bridging passages and similar thematic material in all movements to unify the music into one colossal work. Young fully demonstrated his impeccable technique with flow and admirable ease. Everything was present – the power of the piano, the passion, the drama, the questioning, the search for a resting place, the shimmering cadenzas and exuberant descending chromatic runs. Multi-layers of melodic and dynamic contrasts, particularly the attention given to inner melodies, was authoritative and virtuosic. At times this music is emotionally driven and ferocious with cascading immense chords requiring exceptional technical skill and mature understanding. In this recital, Young took us on an exciting and impressive journey all the way to Rachmaninov’s explosive virtuosic final bars.
Let’s hope for more of Timothy Young’s solo journeys soon.
Photo courtesy MDCH
Julie McErlain reviewed “Timothy Young in Recital” streamed live from the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, by Melbourne Digital Concert Hall on December 11, 2020.