Much to Admire in Tra Nguyen’s London Recital

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Clementi, Schubert, Scriabin, Chopin: Tra Nguyen (piano) Wigmore Hall, London, 16.12.2012 (RB)

Clementi:  Sonata in F sharp minor, Op 25 No 5
Schubert:  Sonata in A major D664
Scriabin:  Sonata No 6, Op 62
Chopin:  Sonata in B minor, Op 58

Tra Nguyen is a British-Vietnamese pianist whose recent recordings of Joachim Raff’s piano music have won critical acclaim, particularly from The Independent.  This was an interesting and wide-ranging recital of familiar and more obscure works.

I should say at the outset that there was some noise and audience disturbance particularly in the first half of the concert that must have been very distracting.  This may well have had some impact on Nguyen and there were momentary lapses in concentration and smudged pedalling, particularly in the Schubert and Chopin.  The concert, however, got off to a very good start with Clementi’s Sonata in F sharp minor.  This sonata was composed in 1790 as one of a set of six sonatas and is in three movements.  The opening movement, which is marked Piú tosto allegro con espressione,was played with Mozartian poise and elegance and there was some very fine tapered phrasing.  The slow movement, marked lento e patetico, was played with nobility and depth of tone and there was a lovely change in tone colour in the transition to the major key.  Nguyen negotiated the fleet-fingered passagework very well in the presto finale while maintaining richness and depth of tone.

Nguyen’s performance of Schubert’s ‘little’ A major sonata was something of a mixed bag.  She observed all of the repeats in the first movement and played the lyrical main theme with a rich burnished tone.  She could perhaps have made more of the contrast between the lyrical elements and the declamatory octaves.  There was some lovely quiet playing in the slow movement and the middle section was played as a dreamy reverie.  The finale suffered most from the lapses in concentration referred to above – it is a very awkward piece to play so it must be difficult to negotiate both the technical problems and distractions from the audience!  I think the opening, in particular, could have benefitted from greater lightness of touch and I would have liked to see a greater variety of articulation throughout the movement as a whole.

Scriabin’s Sixth Sonata is a weird piece and it shows the composer beginning to experiment with atonality, textures and motivic relationships.  Scriabin refused to perform the work claiming it was “unclean” and it has some kind of underlying programme that has never been uncovered – there are directions in the score such as ‘the dream takes shape’ and ‘the terror rises’.  Nguyen did a good job in making sense of this very abstruse music and welding together the fragmentary nature of the material.  The textural layering was very good and there was a nice range of colour and dynamics.

The recital concluded with Chopin’s great B minor sonata, which was composed in Nohant five years before the composer’s early death.  Nguyen’s rendition of the opening allegro maestoso seemed oddly flat and lacking in character and it could have done with a much wider range of dynamics.  The scherzo was played very fast with Nguyen negotiating the difficult passage work well but, as in the last movement of the Schubert, it could have benefitted from greater lightness of touch.  There was some lovely quiet and contemplative playing in the slow movement although it seemed to drift somewhat and I lost the sense of structural cohesion.  The whirlwind finale was taken at a cracking pace and Nguyen did well to control it but again it suffered from minor lapses in concentration and unclear pedalling.

Nguyen played the second of Schubert’s Moments Musicaux as an encore – a nice nightcap at the end of an enjoyable concert.


Robert Beattie