FringeReview UK 2018
At All Saints John Bruzon played a quintet of Scarlatti Sonatas: in E K380, in A 208, D minor K32, in G K14, and C K159. Three Chopin Nocturnes: in E minor Op 72/1, in C minor Op 48/1, and the F minor Op 55/1. The Liszt favourites were Petrarch Sonnet 47 and Valle d’Obermann, and three encores, a transcription by Myra Hess, the Adagio from Bach’s Organ Toccata in C, then Granados’ Danza espagna 2 ‘Oriental’ and Falla’s Ritual Fire Music from El Amor Bruhjo.
It’s worth repeating. John Bruzon’s such a fixture of the south-east you forget his distinction and his journey. Born in Gibraltar, he came to the UK to study with Eric Hope (fine pianist, unexpressive teacher) and particularly Irene Kohler at Trinity College of Music; then embarked on one of those dazzlingly underrated careers that brings him into our orbit. Famed as a Liszt player and throughout the area as a teacher, it’d be good to have a disc or thee of him.
Bruzon starts with one of the most famous. The trilling first in E K380 is marked Andante comodo – you could say stately as a galleon since it’s a kind of processional. For princes perhaps in Portugal court. But there’s a strumming refrain and a repeated-note refrain with a climax of the song-motif, all at this walking-pace.
The next in A 208 glows like a slow discourse amongst an intimate friend walking Adagio cantabile, slowly singing – it’s like that because there’s a song in the right hand with a strumming mandolin-like accompaniment in the left hand bass.
The D minor K32 is one of those black pearls a kind of Aria, a song in shadows with its desolate peak in its second-to-last note falling away, memorably. It’s the kind of dark we associate with Bach, say in the Goldberg’s twenty-fifth variation. The next in G K14 contrasts as you’d expect, with its tolling bright four-note theme, presto, and striking repeats like a kind of clock. Then C K159 with its eight tied-note horn-calls brightly trilling, an outdoors piece calling us to a little local blood-letting; and much more specially its sudden glissandi swooping down the keyboard near the end.
Three Chopin Nocturnes followed this, pretty dark minor-keyed works, though the E minor Op 72/1 is lighter and briefer. Posthumously released in 1855 and 19th of 21 to be published, it is in fact the first Chopin wrote in 1827.
Chopin was 17 and feeling his way into the exclusive property as it were of Irishman John Field who invented the Nocturne (good to hear some of his works sometime). It’s still late-classical too, recalling Chopin’s study of Bach and Mozart; with its happy hazed summer song, simple outline and clarity. After s introduction we get the E minor theme, then a variation in a, a kind of B major haze though it’s the next variation, then what makes the Nocturne so consummate, a highly decorated variation in A again, as if passing through the looking glass. Then we’re into that heat-haze of B major, all raptness till we hit E major – E minor’s resolution. Like the Op 9 set coming soon after it’s texturally restrained with the song element given a left-hand accompanying it that peeks out expressively now and then but doesn’t form a dramatic function.
The C minor Op 48/1, is less well-known though revered by pianists. As Bruzon says, it’s more epic than anything else, with an organ-like feel to the intro and an unsettled resolve back into it with an astonishing central section. Marked by Chopin himself as sotto voce it’s more a slow song, even slower in tempo than the previous with a contrasting right-hand skein of wistfulness rising in a climactic grief remembered. So inward save in the central section it bars showiness but rewards with a stunning central section that suddenly explodes and becomes a kind of scherzo with a swift sign-off.
The first: in F minor Op 55/1 is well-known, a solitary walk like one of the Scarlattis, where the let hand tolls out gently, the whole thing wrapped in unremitting bleak F minor. in its long winding theme. The only slightly more ruffled middle section energizes though instead of being back where we were there ‘s a rippling faster conclusion before the coda. Bruzon tackled this differently but with the same reach of sadness as Valle d’Obermann.
Two Liszt favourites followed. Petrarch Sonnet 47 from Années de Pélerinage Book II is a rising soul-aspiring transcript /9liekt the other two sonnets) of a Liszt song, starts off in A but then soars into this D flat transfiguring of Petrarch’s ‘sweet suffering’, an over arching sublimity. Bruzon’s wholly at home in this repertoire too, and he dispatches with his powerful sense of storytelling and surge.
Valle d’Obermann’s on of Liszt’s bleaker pieces from Book I. The tenebrous dark swirl of chords at the bottom strike out the E minor melody pulling down its grieving – typically associated wit this key – in a contemplation perhaps of what might have been. Asking the dangerous question of identity and direction in one. It’s a one of the great expressions of melancholy, even gloom, in te romantic piano repertoire, never vehement, though in tis downward-moving theme always plangent. Bruzon again is completely at one with a piece he knows intimately.
There were three encores. First a prayer-like transcription by Myra Hess, the Adagio from Bach’s Organ Toccata in C played like a rapt introductory before the Spanish sparklers that followed.
Granados’ Danza espana No. 2 ‘Oriental’ starts with a delicate a chugging ostinato high up wit the arabesuq darkening underneath. It’s hypnotic, leading into more recognizably Granados-like Romanticism, always crystalline, exquisite and with the sensibility of a miniaturist. He comes closer to Satie here than anywhere else.
And a sudden flaring in a way to end this particular recital. Falla’s Ritual Fire Music from El Amor Bruhjo. It’s a whirligig of fires stamped out by pumped and strum-tranced feet. Bruzon’s a consummate pianist we take for granted because he’s part of the concert-life of this city. He deserves wide acclaim.