Bach, Debussy and Chopin : Robert Henry (piano). Wigmore Hall, London 24.7.2011 (RB)
Bach/Silotti: Prelude in B Minor BMV 855a (1921)
Bach : The Well Tempered Clavier Book 1 No. 1-12 (1722)
Debussy: Images Book 1 (1905)
Chopin: Five Études (1837), Polonaise in A flat major, Op 53 ‘Heroic’ (1842)
This was Robert Henry’s first Wigmore Hall recital and it seems to have come on the back of his debut CD recording ‘Twelve Nocturnes and a Waltz’. Mr Henry has won various international piano competitions so I was interested to see how he would fare in this mixed programme of 18th, 19th and 20th century masterpieces.
He began well with Siloti’s famous transcription of Bach’s prelude in E minor (transposed by Siloti to B minor). The transcription allows the pianist to demonstrate the full tonal and expressive range of the piano and Henry used it to show he could produce a gorgeous tone, and his immense control of voicing, texture and dynamics.
Henry’s performance of the first 12 preludes and fugues from Book 1 of the ‘48’ was very romantic, using the full tonal and expressive range of the piano. There were some very good elements to this performance but, overall, I thought his Bach was something of a mixed bag. Henry again showed that he had excellent control of tone and texture, but I thought the performance suffered slightly from over-use of the pedal and he perhaps could have used more staccato and non-legato to bring out the rhythmic buoyancy and vitality of the music. His playing of the passagework in the C sharp major and D major preludes was particularly good, and I liked the expressive intensity of the C sharp minor fugue and the architectural grandeur of the fugue in E flat minor. I was less convinced by the E major fugue, which came across as a study, and the voicing in the E minor fugue was not as clear as it might be. Henry’s performance of the famous opening prelude in C major was very romantic and I came away not quite knowing whether I liked it or not, but pleased to see that he was doing something interesting with the music. Henry’s use of ornamentation was well judged and executed and he showed a good understanding of Baroque idiom.
The first book of Debussy’s Images was the most successful part of the programme. Mr Henry showed extraordinary control of texture, sonority and dynamics throughout. The difficult arpeggios and multi-layered textures in ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ were exquisitely handled, while ‘Homage à Rameau’ was refined and expressive. The passage work in the concluding movement was despatched with ease and he showed a lightness of touch and textural refinement. Henry brought out the inner voices and harmonies in these works in a very musical way.
The concluding part of the programme was devoted to Chopin. Henry first played a selection of the Études either in F major or F Minor and concluded with the famous Polonaise in A flat. He brought out the brooding melancholy and wistfulness of the F minor Étude from Op 10 in a poetic and musical way. The F major Étude from Op 25 showcased his considerable technique and digital facility, while the corresponding F major Étude from Op 10 was dazzling and virtuosic. I was less convinced by the F minor Étude from Op 25 where the right hand passagework seemed slightly sketchy and impressionistic.
Henry brought considerable swagger and panache to the concluding Polonaise, dispatching the famous left hand octaves in the middle section with ease. There was some nice voicing in the penultimate section before the return of the main theme. There were one or two very minor technical errors but not enough to detract from a sterling overall performance. Henry earned two well-deserved encores first playing his own transcription of Chet Atkins’ ‘Waltz for the Lonely’, and finishing with a lovely performance of Chopin’s famous nocturne in D flat.