Iyad Sughayer. Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham. 5 March 2023. 5*****. William Ruff


Iyad Sughayer, piano

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham

March 5 2023


Review: William Ruff


A young piano star revealing beauty in unexpected places

Sunday morning saw the first visit to Nottingham by Jordanian-Palestinian pianist Iyad Sughayer.  He’s not exactly a newcomer to concert halls around the world, however, having made his concerto debut in Jordan…at the age of 8.  As a student he spent much time in the UK studying in Manchester and London before embarking on a career which has taken him to some prestigious concert venues across Europe and the Middle East.  He’s amongst the most exciting young pianists in the world today, clearly enjoying every note he plays, his enthusiasm instantly infectious. 

His Nottingham programme was wide-ranging, spanning 150 years of piano music and including some rarities.  One of the most surprising items on the menu perhaps shouldn’t have been: the first five of Sibelius’ Ten Pieces for Piano, Op 24.  Sibelius is so famous as a composer of orchestral music and concert-going audiences are so familiar with the symphonies and tone poems that it’s easy to forget that there’s a lot of piano music which most people haven’t heard.  In fact, he wrote some 130 pieces, mostly very short and most of them rarely performed in the UK.  The Ten Pieces date from 1895-1903 and Iyad Sughayer showed that they deserve to be better known, even though most were apparently written as pot-boilers. 

Take the opening Impromptu, for instance: it’s wonderfully dramatic, opening with a storm of octaves.  It’s all rather ominous – violent even – before things begin to settle down into a waltz rhythm, evoking memories of a ball.  By contrast the fourth piece Romance is full of Finnish melancholy and mounting tension, whilst the fifth is an elegant, confident miniature with a robust central section forming a striking contrast with the charming urbanity which surrounds it.

You’ll find the Poem in C sharp minor on Iyad Sughayer’s CD of the piano music of Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian, another composer whose piano music doesn’t get much of an outing in British concert halls.  The Poem is a highly attractive rhapsody, full of strikingly lyrical ideas often reminiscent of Armenian folksong, encompassing a wide range of emotions and using a broad palette of sound.  There can’t be many (any?) pianists better acquainted with this repertoire that Sughayer – as was clear from his insightful, incisive and thoroughly captivating performance.

Perhaps the most familiar piece on his programme was the piece with which his recital started: Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 5, K.283.  It’s not a flashy piece, the emphasis being on precise detail rather than virtuosity for its own sake.  The lovely, poised slow movement worked particularly well, the tempo just right and its tone both poignant and uplifting.  The finale zips along, requiring nimble fingers to negotiate the torrents of notes which Mozart has been keeping under check until now. 

Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival in Vienna) produced some similarly evocative playing.  The composer wrote it mostly whilst the annual Viennese carnival was in full swing around him and described it as a ‘grand romantic sonata’, its five short movements capturing in high-voltage playing (with some spectacular hand-crossing) the city’s high spirits, energy and general joie de vivre.

Here, as in the rest of his imaginative programme, Iyad Sughayer proved to be a master not only of grand gestures but of fine detail as well.  And his recital opened up previously unknown musical territory for the audience, revealing beauty in unexpected places.  His name may not be one that trips easily from the tongue at the moment – but it soon will be.

Iyad Sughayer playing in the Sunday Morning Piano Series at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall

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