An Outstanding Wigmore Hall Recital by David Malusa

 United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bach, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, George Benjamin, Liszt. David Malusa (piano) Wigmore Hall, London. 6.11. 2011 (RB)

Bach: Two preludes and fugues from the Well Tempered Clavier Book II in C BWV870 and C minor BWV871
Rachmaninov: Variations on a theme of Chopin, Op 22
Debussy: Hommage à Haydn, L115
Ravel: Minuet sur le nom d’Haydn
Benjamin: Meditation on Haydn’s name
Liszt: Totentanz, paraphrase on ‘Dies Irae’, S525

David Malusa won the Jacques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition in 2010, as a result of which he gained the opportunity to perform a recital at the Wigmore Hall. Past winners include Bobby Chen and Yevgeny Sudbin so the competition can be something of a staging post for potentially top rank pianists.

Malusa opened his recital with the first two preludes and fugues from Book II of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavie’. The C major prelude had a stately grandeur which was highly appropriate for the opening of the second book of the 48, with Malusa conjuring beautifully sculpted contrapuntal lines and a wonderful feeling of space from his Fazioli. The C major fugue and C minor prelude both had vibrancy, wonderful rhythmic buoyancy and well executed ornamentation. Malusa adopted a slightly dry tone for the final C minor fugue, which worked well.

The Rachmaninov Variations on a theme of Chopin are a set of twenty-two variations based on Chopin’s Prelude in C minor (Op 28, No. 20). It is Rachmaninov’s first large scale solo piano work and the composer began working on the set immediately after his honeymoon and first performed them in 1903. Malusa had carefully considered the tempo relationships between the variations as well as the distinctive features of each so he brought an excellent sense of architectural coherence to the set. He conjured exquisite colours from the Fazioli for the second variation and brought out Rachmaninov’s brooding passion and dark poetry. In the ‘meno mosso’ variations Malusa really made the piano sing and he layered Rachmaninov’s textures in an exquisite way. He showed his considerable virtuoso firepower in variations 8-10 and in variation 20. The ‘allegro scherzando’ and ‘grave’ variations were vividly characterised while in the penultimate ‘andante’ variation, Malusa showed a cultivated poetic sensibility. He finished the set in set in style with some bravura flourishes.

The three pieces based on Haydn’s name was a nice piece of programming although I must confess that I am not that keen on the Benjamin. Malusa showed a nice range of textures and sonorities for the Debussy while the Ravel was graceful, evocative and elegant.

Malusa opted to finish his recital with Liszt’s Totentanz for solo piano, which is a highly virtuosic set of variations based on the famous ‘Dies Irae’ theme. Liszt composed two versions of the Totentanz, one for piano solo and one for piano and orchestra and the latter is performed more often nowadays. Malusa used his Fazioli to excellent effect, bringing out the orchestral sonorities and textures of the piece. The opening was handled extremely well with Malusa conveying the jagged and aggressive nature of the music while maintaining beauty of tone. The range of pyrotechnics needed for this piece is considerable and Malusa rose to the challenge, treating the Wigmore audience to cadenzas, rapid repeated notes and thirds, arpeggio figurations, glissandi and rapid fire octaves. Malusa’s octaves in particular were absolutely stunning and put me in mind of Argerich playing at full throttle.

This young pianist received a very warm reception from the Wigmore audience and played two encores: the second of Schumann’s three Romanzen from Op 28 and a transcription of Gluck’s famous melody from Orfeo ed Euridice. The latter melted away in a magical and mellifluous way. Altogether, this was an outstanding debut from and exciting up-and-coming young artist. I predict we will be hearing much more from him in the future.

Robert Beattie