FringeReview UK 2019
Caroline Tyler performs two large-scale Chopin works, the Polonaise Fantasie Op 61 and Ballade No. 4 Op 52, enveloping Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau and Fazil Say’s Black Earth.
We’ve seen Caroline Tyler in ensemble but here in a scorching programme she gave us a Chopin envelope loaded with exotica, as if the envelope wasn’t wild enough.
I’ve not seen Tyler perform solo and it was a revelation. Briefly Tyler from Hayward’s Heath is a virtuoso of extremes: an immense power with lucidity, a clarity and virtuosity to fuel a turbulent, controlled but tempi-pressing recital where some works are played just that bit quicker than I’ve heard before, yet suddenly breathe, like the first item in the right places.
Chopin’s Polonaise Fantasie Op 61 is his late post break-up pieces and differs from the other seven polonaises in being a hybrid unique to this piece. So the aristocratic crisp rhythms of the Polonaise are inflected with sudden rubati and eddies, sudden swirls and pulls way from the overarching beat. With the introductory chords, the opening two tied notes and the following two, a declaration of darkness, we’re pulled into an ever-increasing swirl of a memory. Not just Georges Sand and their now failed relationship, but the memory of those Polonaises – the last being the Heroic Op 53, a kind of lens on his own musical history. There’s a terrific climax and a resolute wintry coda.
Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau from 1901 kick-started French impressionist pianism, even though he and Debussy had written earlier pieces. It’s a five-minute liquid study in waterfall sounds, derived from Liszt’s Villa d’Este from 1876, but already in Ravel’s own pointillistic jewelled surface there’s a difference. Tyler uses a very different tonal palate though still with her unerring clear-headed terracing: there’s a lucid through-line and again stands of texture audible to this magically shifting piece.
Fazil Say’s Black Earth is fast becoming a 21st century favourite. Helen Burford amongst others has played it here. Say the Turkish all-round wunderkind was born 1970 and here celebrates a folk song about the black of earth of home not letting him down: a sad and angry consolation. It starts with plucking sounds from the soundboard, imitating the oud; moves in to the melting main theme which then accelerates in a syncopated frenzy before melting back in a mirror dissolve back to its first elements. It’s stunning, heartrending and wholly unforgettable. Tyler – only slightly prone to rush a couple of fences, in a piece new to her – refused to treat this piece safely. It’s an exhilarating performance in its passion and risk-taking. Tyler took a minute off the normal 6.30 time in the most scorched-earth reading I’ve ever heard, live or on a recording. No wonder this got an explosive ovation.
Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 Op 52 starts with an Nocturne-like opening, gentle and almost fairy-like, a bit like the Ravel, but soon builds to a rhythmically rocking version of the seven-note theme building to a snowstorm imaged in the climactic, tragic resolve. At eleven minutes it’s only slightly shorter than the opening item, but we’ve moved through so much music in part descended from Chopin that we seem to hear him again and for the same time. Tyler’s storytelling was clear, with an extremely impressive clarity in the contrapuntal and even two-and-three-part Bachian elements in both the Chopin pieces.
A revelatory, stunning recital. Tyler’s scorching but lucid too. Far more able to let her works breathe than her velocity suggests, Tyler remains a highly-charged, passionately lucid pianist, with surely a career that’ll mirror that. Just watch.