A Splendid Recital in Plymouth from Ian Fountain

30/04/2012

 Brahms, Schubert, Mozart, Wagner arr. Kocsis, Chopin: Ian Fountain (piano) Sherwell Centre, Plymouth University, 28.4. 2012 (PRB)

Brahms: Intermezzo in A minor, Op. 118 No. 1
Intermezzo in A, Op. 118 No. 2
Capriccio in G minor, Op. 116 No. 3
Intermezzo in E, Op. 116 No. 6.
Schubert: Sonata in C minor, D. 958
Mozart: Sonata in E flat, K. 282
Wagner arr. Zoltán Kocsis: Flower Maidens’ Scene and Finale from Parsifal
Chopin: Scherzo No 2 in B flat minor, Op. 31

 

While chamber music, by definition, usually doesn’t embrace solo performers, no one would surely have questioned including this truly outstanding concert in the Peninsula Arts Chamber Music Series.

Undoubtedly one of the best piano recitals heard in the city for some considerable time, Ian Fountain scored highly on the two essential elements – repertoire and performance.

Opening with Brahms’s A minor Intermezzo, Op 118 No 1, the scene was set for a programme combining highly-lyrical playing and moments of great passion and virtuosity. To this end, Fountain not only produced immense washes of sound, but also exquisitely-hushed moments in the subsequentIntermezzo in A from the same set. The Capriccio in G minor from the Op 116set further emphasised Fountain’s ability to achieve big moments, but there was never any feeling of tonal harshness in the bolder sections. The Intermezzo in E, Op 116No 6 once more evoked some gorgeous textures as the music faded serenely to its close. In this whole selection, the fact that here were some of the composer’s last piano works, whose general mood was probably elicited by two recent losses – his sister, Elise, and close friend and supporter, Elizabeth von Herzogenberg respectively – was always foremost in the interpretation.

Again a relatively late work, Schubert’s C minor Sonata proved an admirable follow-on. The opening movement, with its evident similarity to Beethoven’s Variations in the same key, was given with all the ardour and fire of the earlier composer’s work, but here elevated one notch higher by Fountain’s well-studied reading. Great serenity and nobility were to the fore in the slow movement, with the ensuing finale despatched with the greatest panache and bravura, and with really quite phenomenal accuracy at that speed.

Mozart’s early Sonata in E flat, K 282, wisely turned the heat down somewhat, and provided a perfect lesson in textural clarity and neatness of articulation. Unusually the work opens with a slow movement, in which Fountain effortlessly balanced melody and accompaniment with great success. The two Minuets which follow are ideal exemplars of stylised dances, and here the sympathetic performance never lost sight of the form’s courtly origin. The finale is marked ‘allegro’ – ‘cheerful’ or ‘brisk’, though commonly interpreted as ‘lively’. Fountain’s impeccable technique was more than capable of rattling the movement off with great aplomb, even if the resulting tempo felt more akin to ‘presto’ (‘quickly’) than Mozart’s own indication.

Hungarian pianist, conductor and composer, Zoltán Kocsis’s reworking of the Flower Maidens’ Scene and Finale from Wagner’s Parsifal was a supreme tour de force in realising the composer’s extremely full orchestration with no more than eighty-eight keys available. Such was the skill both in the arrangement and its execution, that no note or line was omitted; at times it was hard to realise that only two hands were playing.

When talking about his Scherzo No 2 in B flat minor, Op 31, Chopin allegedly said to one of his students: “It must be a charnel house”. Fountain clearly had this statement in mind with his reading, which so finely captured the composer’s intentions, from the whispered start, the questioning bass octaves, and the fervour and eventual splendour of the impassioned closing bars in the major key.

With a sensitively-crafted performance of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, by way of an encore, Ian Fountain rounded off this superb demonstration of pianism of the highest order, yet always infused with the utmost musicality.

Philip R Buttall

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