Gower Festival 2017 Alexandra Dariescu (Piano) St Peter’s Church, Newton, Swansea Saturday 15 July
Five Star *****
Review: Paul & David Gray
The Magical Gower gains added magic
In the final concert of this year’s Gower Festival, the young Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, who is taking the musical world by storm, delivered a passionate & varied programme of works, some familiar and some unfamiliar.
The evening began with the 1910 set of Neuf Préludes Op. 103 by Fauré. Inexplicably these pieces from Faurés later years are little known and proved both a delight and a penetrating insight into the creative mind of a composer confronted by impending deafness.
The pianist guided the audience through these works with intelligence and sensitivity, allowing the glorious song-like melodies to shine through luscious harmonic textures; sometimes in the treble, sometimes the bass and, most captivatingly, in the mellow, viola-esque, alto world of the inner melodic lines: a truly magnificent interpretation on a deeper musical level.
Indeed, in these exquisite Préludes the harmonic language is constantly shifting through a variety of added-note chords belonging to a fluid range of keys. This provides a sense of a mystical journey ever in search of a final point of rest or “home” key. This is a technique similar in works by other composers of the time; one thinks of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, or
the sense of aching yearning in one of the final movements of Mahler’s late works.
The musical process at work here is sometimes called progressive tonality, and in her interpretation Dariescu insightfully captures the sense of an ever-yearning for a final key of repose. Of course, there are also other influences at work here – particularly Bach and Beethoven.
Next in the programme came two of the Préludes pour Piano by a twenty-year-old Messiaen (1929). Despite his youth, and clear indebtedness to Debussy, one can discern the beginnings
of Messiaen’s own unique musical voice. The influence of bird song is particularly evident.
The first half ended with a thrilling interpretation of a young Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in F, Op. 10, No. 2. Here, Dariescu provided wonderful comic storytelling with playing of the
highest calibre. In the final presto, the pianist brought out both the Mozartian comic charm of the discursive sonata-rondo form, together with great clarity in the contrapuntal – and at times fugato/fugal – sections. Some moments of stunning, captivating virtuosity here; utterly engaging.
The concert concluded with one of Dariescu’s extended, signature pieces, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite Op. 71a, arr. Pletnev (& others). This was a bravura tour de force performance which saw familiar tunes dressed in new clothes. Dariescu brought nightmarish immediacy to the invasion of the mice in the Nutcracker story, and a breath-taking, passionate and beautifully interpreted pas de deux. One felt swept away in a swirl of passion and almost orchestral power here.
This is a remarkable young pianist and one to watch. A dazzling end to a most successful Gower Festival of over 40 years in the making, and one for which the voluntary organisers are to be highly congratulated.