James Lisney Gives UK Premiere of Jan Vriend’s Meden Agan

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Beethoven, Janáček, Jan Vriend: Paul Barritt (violin), James Lisney (piano), Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham. 28.3.2012.  (RJ)

Beethoven: Sonata in D for piano and violin, Opus 12/1
Jan Vriend
: Meden Agan
Janáček: Sonata for violin and piano
: Sonata in G for piano and violin, Opus 96

The veteran Dutch composer Jan Vriend turned up to hear James Lisney give the first performance in Britain of his triptych Meden Agan.  This is Vriend’s first work for solo piano since Gravity’s Dance in 1984. The English translation of Meden Agan is “Nothing in Excess” and one suspects the composer is being a little ironical, since there are no half measures in this work, which puts plenty of demands on the performer.

The first movement, “Rhetorica”, had a  percussive edge and seemed to develop into a discussion which was extremely animated and intense at times. “Poetica”, by contrast, was slower and more introspective containing just a hint of the musical traditions of the Baroque period. “Erotica” was fast and exuberant – Vriend feels it owes something to Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse. Certainly there is no denying its flamboyance, yet its pulsating rhythms conjured up images of the night club scene with jazz musicians creating a sense of the exotic and erotic. The whole work is full of interest and – dare I say it? – excitement, suggesting that Jan Vriend’s abilities and imagination are undimmed with the passing of time. As for Mr Lisney’s performance, the composer made it clear that he was more than delighted with it.

For the rest of the recital James Lisney teamed up with Paul Barritt to play Janáček and Beethoven.  That they are a formidable duo was evident from their playing of Janáček’s Sonata for violin and piano – a striking work which begins with a declamatory outburst on the violin but calms down as the piano embarks on a more Romantic course. There were no jagged edges to the Ballada, however, and the musicians gave a hearty rendition of the brilliant scherzo based on a Czech folk tune with brusque comments from the violin. The work ends not with a bouncy finale but with an adagio. Despite rhapsodic playing on the piano the movement seemed strangely remote and eventually drifted into a mood of bleak resignation.

The duo added further interest to their programme by including Beethoven’s first and last sonatas for violin and piano. The first one, dedicated to Salieri, showed Beethoven finding his feet in this genre. The tema con variazioni demonstrated great assurance, and the duo rose to the occasion with a spectacular performance of the penultimate variation. Paul Barritt’s violin exhibited almost demonic qualities in the high spirited finale.

One might have expected the Sonata in G to be serious and angst-ridden reflecting Beethoven’s maturity, but it was a delight from start to finish with a spring-like outdoors feel to the allegro moderato followed by one of the composer’s most enthralling slow movements. The finale started gently enough but became wilder and more gypsy-like as the piece progressed with the two musicians playing with enthusiasm and exuberance, not least in the prestissimo flourish of the coda.

Altogether this was everything a good recital should be: something new and challenging with a dash of the familiar performed by able, committed and enthusiastic musicians.

Roger Jones