FringeReview UK 2019
David Soo plays Schubert’s Hungarian Melody in B minor D817, two movements from Ravel’s Miroirs, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in a Op 82 and a Kapustin Concert Etude from his Op 40 set.
Back on January 23rd David Soo and Mi Yang gave a memorable violin and piano recital at St Nicholas. Now Soo returns by himself and I’d already noted of his solo item then ‘Soo’s rendition of Liszt’s 1858 Rhapsodie Espagnole is something else.’ So imagine a complete recital.
It was an inspired choice to begin with something so misdirecting of things to come, a musical foundation stone. At a little under four minutes Schubert’s Hungarian Melody in B minor D817 from around 1824 is a melting consolatory piece, a simple ternary shaped work in lendler rhythm slightly slowed, basically a kind of Valse Triste. It’s too structurally straightforward perhaps for an Impromptu collection though it shares their slightly later world of 1826-27. Soo can melt as well as importune and he manages it perfectly here.
Ravel’s and Prokofiev’s worlds are diametrically opposed to Schubert even if Ravel’s melting harmonies have a sweet centre too: they’re crystalline, diamond-shaped, not shadowed. Two pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs from 1904 contrast this and lead us out from the Schubert. The haunted ‘Oiseaux Tristes’ is a curious call-and-refrain that literally loses its way as the birds do in the dense foliage. Soo picks his way through leaving repetitive trills hanging daringly to the utmost Ravel himself suggested. There’s a soaring moment when the trills take flight, but also lost single notes that ultimately dissolve. It’s like Messaien’s Catalogues d’Oiseaux three years before he was born.
How not to make the glittering surface of Ravel’s sound too hard whilst being so pointillistic and precise? ‘Une Barque sur I’Ocean’ evokes the splintering sunlight on sea and the heave an pluck of water as the boat eddies. Stravinsky declaring music could express nothing was always wary of Ravel who proved – as Stravinsky himself did – that it certainly could. Soo brings quite a hard edge to where the climazes demand a strange combination of hard clarity and rippling peruasion. It’s a different, more classical bright version than the pure impressionism we’re used to.
The main item was Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in A major, Op 82 the first of his War Trilogy of sonatas though it was written unlike the others in 1939-40 before the Soviet union was a war. But then the Terror was on again. Though the composer premiered it, it became a staple of Richter who played Nos 2, 4, 6, 7, 8 (written for Gilels who made it memorable too) and for a while No. 9.
As Soo points out it’s never been quite as popular in Europe as 7 and 8, though in the U. S., after Richter’s 1960 Carnegie recital it became a staple. Van Cliburn (1960), Ivo Pogorelich (1983) and latterly Evegny Kissin (1987, 1990) are the other great performers of this sardonic, splinteringly humorous, puckish paean to individualism.
The Allegro Moderato like No. 8 opens slowly but here with a leading note and three following in a descending skirl, impudent, barbaric, in your face, pretty loud. After some pounding figuration it settles – Soo catches this brilliantly – into a reflective gentle passage one almost forgets because of the movement’s onward propulsion. There’s an increasingly frenetic conversation between slow heavy chords and faster light ones as the Allegro drags itself ‘moderato’ to tis end.
The Allegretto functions as a delicate slower scherzo, in the higher register a bit like the March from The Love of Three Oranges, but delicate and pointillistic. Again there’s shocking contrasts even here.
The third movement is about as Adagio as Prokofiev dares, Tempo di valser lentissimo – a marking not far from the Schubert in a way. So a slowed-down waltz with an underlying pulse to keep the lsowness moving, with cotnrasts of shocking barbarity and a searing climax that really does invoke stark tragedy for someone, perhaps the Soviet union, perhaps Prokofiev’s cast-off French wife.
Even the finale Vivace can never be simple – it speeds along to what seems a straightforward conclusion though slow episodes are de rigeur from No. 2 onwards; an eddy at least. There’s nothing unusual either in a recollection of pervious movements: the opening chords, some of the third’s waltz-time, but not quite at the end where you’d then expect a short coda.
The pause and gathering then launches from what might have seemed a winding-down into a coruscating passage of glissandi and shooting-forth of volleys, of laughter, rage and – unmistakably – defiance. But the opening chords are still quoted, now cascading into mockery. Soo plays this as if his life depends on it: I’ve never heard it quite this way, not even from Kissin’s risk-taking 1987 performance.
And he still wasn’t done. Soo rounded off with a flurrying encore. Russian jazz anyone? Many Russians used it – Shostakovich, Denisov, Schedrin, Schnittke most memorably. Nikolai Kapustin (b. 1937) mixes Shostakovich jazziness with real jazz, creating a cascading volatility, where jazz melts into frantic rhythms and Shostakovich (the young Shostakovich who wrote jazzy Preludes) meets Art Tatum and even Thelonius Monk. It’s indescribable. Nothing of Kapustin seems slow. He writes piano sonatas in this style too. This Concert Etude from the Op 40 set of 8 (I think the 8th) is thrillingly wayward: utterly Kapustin in a capsule.
If you missed Soo in this exhilarating jeu the best place is to look for Marc-André Hamelin’s or Stephen Osborne’s Hyperion recordings. Kapustin’s been gaining fame in the west since the millennium.
This was exhilarating, a stunning recital from David Soo.