FringeReview UK 2018
Christina McMaster’s recital brought Scarlatti, Glass, Rachmaninov and Debussy in a dovetailed but heterogeneous mix.
Christina McMaster’s visited the Chapel Royal several times, returning with one of those innovative programmes that ensure we’re not getting another assured set of performances but a recital planned with unusual juxtapositions to keep anyone from dozing in this spectacular early July heat.
McMaster’s known for intelligent virtuosity, a strong feeling for other musics including jazz as well as many classics from baroque to contemporary.
The music’s summery for the most part, particularly in the first part. McMaster alternated three Scarlatti Sonatas with pieces by Philip Glass from his film scores – I didn’t catch the titles but their provenance was the more developed Glass of the 1980s onwards, with reflective, refractive passages some way from his earlier minimalism. They’re mostly well-known the tenebrously bright F major K459, an attractive summer slant of slight melancholy suddenly reeling off to dance-like rhythms, the dark D Minor K19with its fleet filigree darting in and out of shadows. Finally the famous C major K159 with its famous hunting-notes (these are usually in E flat, but high C horns are what haydn sued in his Symphony No. 31, and it’s got that whooping brightness to it. Again there’s a dance-like quality with rapid hunting-horn sounds alternating with springy swoops.
Next up something far darker. Two D minor Etudes-Tableaux by Rachmaninov, study-pictures of passion and gloom. The first, No. 5 from the Op 39 set (originally from Op 33) is a strange affair of broken intervals, as if Rachmaninov can never wuite get going, but it’s a thrilling journey to the core of some angst. The net No. 8 of the same set is more elusive, ruminant, though gentler and not at all as demonically heroic as D minor can be. There’s an inwardness aobut this, a tenderness that’s rare in Rachmaninov especially in this key. It’s hopeful too, as both this works are, towards the end where they both turn to the major.
Finally from 1915 five late Debussy Etudes, from eight-finger exercises ‘pour les cinq doigts d’après Monsieur Czerny (five fingers, “after Monsieur Czerny (No. 1) that go strangely with an interrupted off-note bass-note that evolves into something far more virtuosic overwhelming the right hand at the top of they keyboard range. Designed to replace Czerny’s rather humdrums, Debussy knew that Chopin was the true dedicatee, with his own two sets of etudes, though he played with the idea of Couperin, a favourite or ravel’s too.
Others including No. 4 ‘Pour les octaves’ is more bracing, but these are where we see McMaster’s full panoply and colouristic range shot through with splintering modernisms. No. 8 ‘pour les agréments’ or ornaments, a flourishing sunlit passagework glittering in this performance. I’m pretty sure the other two were the No. 2 and No. 3 for thirds and fourth respectively. But they all dazzled, in McMaster’s particularly exuberant way with these works, rather often played with taut attention. Here there’s compete focus but a hint of wildness controlled that’s part of what makes McMaster brilliantly unpredictable in what she presents, and what sonorities she’ll bring as well as a terrifically malleable colouristic keyboard; but wholly predictable in another stunning display. It confirms we hardly need the Wigmore if such artists travel to Brighton for the Chapel Royal and a few other venues. McMaster’s CD was understandably snapped up.