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FringeReview UK 2019

Lance Mok Piano Recital

Lance Mok

Genre: Live Music, Music

Venue: St Nicholas Brighton, Dyke Road


Low Down

Lance Mok played first Poulenc’s Eight Nocturnes, then Schumann’s Fantasie Pieces Op 111, and finally Hindemith’s 1922 Suite.


Lance Mok’s only just emerging from his studies and on this evidence is of exceptional interest – he’s already picked out slightly neglected works that admirably suits him. He should more than carve a niche out. He can count these pieces back in the repertoire altogether. And about time too.


Under the guise of Nocturne we’re lulled into a false sense of what Nocturnes are. With a dream diversion in the middle by that purveyor of dreams, Schumann. The repertoire should tell us.


Mok does too, citing Nietzsche, his 1972 The Birth of Tragedy and much else, concentrating on Dionysian energy. The only trouble with this is that Mok’s core period – the 1920s – is distinctly neo-classical and Apollonian.


Mok played first Poulenc’s Eight Nocturnes, which aren’t anything like Chopin and Fauré but 1920s versions of Paris night life, straight out of the sensibility of Les Six, that phalanx of chic anti-romantic but not anti-tonal composers. I’m reminded of what Constant Lambert, who enjoyed their music and wrote alongside them, suggested: ‘These two pieces {of Milhaud’s} reminds one of the host who forgetting to put alcohol in the first round of cocktails puts methylated spirits in the second to make up for it.’


That’s basically the , er spirit of these works. Some are simply noted as in C major, others names: Bal des jeunes filles, Les Cloches de Malines, Bal fantome, Phalenes (Moths), in G , E Flat, and ‘pour server de Coda’. Some then really do sound bright, reflective, post-Stravinsky, but the post-war Stravinsky at that. And of course all those balls. This is in a sense dance music. Like a waltz and nocturne met up for chic adultery:, one of those combos Chopin didn’t get around to in his last years.


Of the two it’s when Poulenc essays the two adjoining Nocturnes Bal fantome, Phalenes that we’re treated to his minor-keyed profundity. I wish he’d written more like these, perhaps. Everything ids delicious, tuneful if admittedly not quite as distinct as his very best known, but this is lower first class Poulenc piano music and those two pieces named finer than that.


Mok plays these with an alertness and poise that really do them justice too. He’s alive to brittle colours, coruscating surfaces, bright lights and a dotted rhythm that keeps them on the slinky side of methylated spirits. I’d love to hear Mok play these again and other Poulenc.


He then Schumann’s essayed Fantasie Pieces Op 111, rather than the really late Op 133 Songs before Dawn that might have fitted his programme rather better. still, these are perhaps more inspired, still late works around 1849, one of those isolated returns to the keyboard Schumann sometimes made.


The first is marked ’with passionate speech’ and it’s a headlong powerful piece. Mok played well here though the cross-currents suggest he’s not entirely at home in this repertoire yet. Few are. The central ‘quite slow’ movement afforded respite though its lyricism is evanescent and rather oblique. The finale ‘strong and vey articulated’ is strenuous stuff. It’s fine Schumann. Mok’s not yet quite inside this but very few are, and it’d be fascinating to see what Mok does, gifted as he potentially is with a remarkable palette for Schumann – the tenebrous, oblique late Schumann in particular.


Mok’s back on top form with Hindemith’s 1922 Suite Op 26, with its title telling you everything. Svitatislav Richter played it exactly 30 years ago in a February 1989 rectal in Berlin, captured on two wonkily recorded Decca CDs. I’m not sure if it’s even been done since!


Hindemith had recently composed his satiric opera Der Noush Noushi (literally The Nut Eater, and you can guess) and the lurid Sancta Susanna with nuns stripping themselves naked before the cross. Small chance for innocence here, in the hyper-articulated stride and strut of Hindemith’s early pianism. Nothing here either of the later monumental sour melodies of the three Sonatas and Ludos Tonalis, though none of their profundities either. Hindemith nearing 27 wasn’t in the mood for that and why should he be? But there’s a surprise.


These pieces ‘March’, ‘Shimmy’, ‘Night Piece’, ‘Boston’ and ‘Ragtime’ tell you everything. The syncopations are something Mok strikes through with his blood. They’re him. The rebarbative cheerfulness of these works show how the French did this sort of thing better in one sense but then they couldn’t have bitten the satire of Grosz for instance and that’s the world here. The ‘March’ is spiky, recalling Hindemith’s take on military service perhaps, and the ‘Shimmy’ exotic tangy. It’s in the next two he shows his mettle . ‘Night Piece’, is a series of long-suspended tonalities and delicate, even filigree ruminations against a troubled bass line, but probing, melancholic and almost other-worldly for Hindemith. ‘Boston’ too with a phrase indicating its name is a kind of subdued night life – no other kind in Boston, surely – and a fine portrait of something read about before finally going there. Finally ‘Ragtime’ is the catchiest and wonkiest, a tour-de-farce of tonal cascades, an original wrong-note-rag. A really satisfying conclusion and thrilling too.


Mok’s a pianist of bristling oblique lyricism – an ideal interpreter for piano music in the first half of the twentieth century. We should hear a lot more from him, and when he’s fully rounded – it’s not going to be long – I hope he takes this and other repertoire to all the best places.