Roger Woodward performed a massive program on Thursday evening with playing that had an abundance of both virtuosity and delicacy. And in the largest work on offer, Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata, there was a firm grasp of the architectural and spiritual dimensions of this masterpiece.
No pianist can have everything in abundance, let alone, deliver everything on the night and while both books of Debussy’s Images were delivered with fine detail and an obvious appreciation for its textures and layers, one wished for perhaps a greater projection of all these elements. The Recital Centre has wonderful acoustics but nonetheless, it is not a small room, it is a concert hall. And these seemingly delicate Debussy works needed more virtuosity, more clarity in the playing to articulate the subtleties of colour, rhythm, and scope of the composer’s sound world. There was not much to be disappointed with in terms of the musical discourse and many of these elements were explored intelligently but the wider expanses of Elisabeth Murdoch Hall required a grander pianistic projection of the music’s subtleties.
Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue was the most balanced performance of the evening. The improvisatory nature of the opening part was given with panache, and the drama in those arpeggiated figures above the chromatic bass and inner-chromatic lines was intensely involving. At times, the Fugue was over-pedalled and one could have wished for more clarity in the delivery of Bach’s ideas but the richness of sonority and emotional intensity that Woodward was able to reach just before the work’s grand resolution was palpable.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening was Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier” Sonata. Woodward’s concentration was unwavering. This was a deeply human performance, full of passion and in the glorious slow movement, Woodward did his best to bring this gigantic and seemingly improvisatory whole into perspective. Beethoven’s musical world here is a highly expressive one, sometimes resolute, sometimes anguished, sometimes frightening, sometimes spiritually redeemed. Those moments where the music, literally and emotionally, lifted into another world by Woodward’s sensitive judgment for timing and placement of nuance, these were the best moments of the recital. Once again, no pianist can have everything on a particular night and one could have wished for a more overriding eternal pulse, one that would speak right up until the strange and murmuring moments of the introduction to the finale. Here though, Woodward was in another world, showcasing the movement’s furious fugal elements set against an iron architectural framework. At times, those furious fugal entries and trills reminded this reviewer of Scriabin’s late piano sonatas, the performance was indeed once again over-pedalled. But like in the Bach earlier in the evening, the emotional intensity reached just before the work’s grand resolution was once again, very palpable.
Perhaps the constant rain kept some away but Woodward deserved a bigger audience. This was a recital of core and challenging repertoire delivered with year’s worth of dedication and thought.