Standing in a very short notice for an indisposed Alexandra Vaduva, pianist Dominic Degavino impressed with his remarkably mature musicianship.
He began with Janáček’s From the Street, 1.X.1905, the two surviving movements of a piece written to commemorate the death of a young worker during a demonstration (and which, incidentally, was never referred to as a sonata in the composer’s lifetime, though it often gets called one). In the melancholy opening Degavino found an angry undertow that soon erupted. However dense the textures, he never let them sound cluttered, while bringing out the cimbalom-like nature of some of the writing. In the second movement he shaded music’s sorrowing into unearthly tranquillity.
The delicate traceries of the first of Brahms’s Piano Pieces, Op 119, followed on smoothly from Janáček’s tragic resignation. Degavino charted the steadily lightening mood during the other three pieces, from No 2’s edginess and elegant central waltz, through a simultaneously playful and enigmatic account of No 3, to a real sense of defiance in the last.
David Matthews, now 75, is one one the most distinguished living British composers. Degavino worked with him on his solo piano music, and his account of the Variations for Piano, Op 72, was authoritative and committed, preserving the two-part shape of the work as a whole, while also highlighting the contrasts from one variation to the next, and occasional nods to other composers that Matthews regards highly, from the teeming, Tippett-like upper-keyboard glitter of Variation 5, to the Beethovenian abruptness of No 11, a conscious tribute to his Diabelli Variations, and jazzy rhythms elsewhere.
After the interval he took us through the shifting moods of Kreisleriana, Schumann’s tribute to the musician and fantasy-writer ETA Hoffmann. His command of the music’s expressive contrasts took off from an impassioned opening, and saw dreamy inwardness followed by insistent driving rhythmic patterns, delicate high-lying pirouettes, and feelings of melancholy giving way to angry outbursts (a further echo of the Janáček). He explored the work’s expressive heart in the slow fourth section, projecting its profound inwardness, and made the racing energy of the final section more playful than some performances I’ve heard. His neat final pay-off raised a smile.
© Mike Wheeler 2018.