A Refreshing Recital from Renée Reznek  

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Satie, Debussy, Harrison, Muyanga, Lynch, Holmeyr Renée Reznek (piano) The 1901 Arts Club, Waterloo, London, 15.5.2014 (CC)


Satie                            Préludes flasques (pour une chien)
Debussy                      Images, Book 1
Sadie Harrison            Par-feshani-ye ‘Eshq (London premiere)
Neo Muyanga             hade, Tata (London premiere)
Graham Lynch            Selections from White, Book 1
Hendrik Hofmeyr       Partita Africana


The 1901 Arts Club is a new venue to me, and one I hope to revisit. The room used for concerts seats maybe 50 people snugly, which lends the whole experience a tangible intimacy. The fear was that the piano sound might become uncomfortable at higher dynamic levels, but Renée Reznek generally judged the acoustic well.

That South African works featured in the second half of the recital is unsurprising: Renée Resnek studied at Cape Town University, with Lamar Crowson. She has also studied with the likes of the great Carlo Zecchi – who she met in Cape Town – and Susan Bradshaw. Her emphasis is firmly on contemporary repertoire; here, she eased the listener into the more taxing works with some lesser-known Satie and Debussy’s famous first book of Images.

Satie’s Préludes flasques (pour une chien), which translates as “Flabby Preludes (for a dog)”, are characteristically austere. Satie’s secretive, disembodied counterpoint, a sort of Gallic, de-constructed Bach, is fascinating. The enigmatic nature of the piece was the perfect way into thie recital, immediately eschewing any sense of the familiar.

Debussy’s Images Book 1 – surely for most of those present the only familiar music of the evening – was much more than a stepping stone towards Sadie Harrison’s piece. A highlight was Reznek’s deliciously weighted “Hommage à Rameau”. However, the actual highlight of not only the first half but of the concert as a whole was Sadie Harrison’s Par-feshani-ye ‘Eshq (“the fluttering wings of love”), a piece written in 2013 and here receiving its London premiere. Subtitled “six pieces after Bidel”, the title is taken from a text by that eighteenth-century Sufi poet. Each of the six movements is inspired by a particular couplet (reproduced in the score); an Afghan-Indian rag is used to provide melodic/harmonic cohesiveness. First performed on April 20th of this year at Homerton College, Cambridge University by Reznek, this is the strongest, finest piece I have yet heard by this composer. Exquisitely and expertly written – Harrison is herself a fine pianist – the consistency of musical language throughout as well as the heartfelt responses to the texts are most impressive. The first movement is prefaced by the couplet, “The scents and the colours of this garden pulse with love; Along with every rose, the nightingale’s fluttering wing”. The Impressionist-sounding language linked back to the Debussy that we had just heard. The musical response is immediate: the composer’s indication for this piece is “Fluttering: the lightest of wings” and it was testament to Reznek’s artistry that the delicacy of this direction was perfectly honoured. The movement is saturated with tremolos, closing with repeated chords disappearing into eternity.

The brief second piece (“Like clay pots on the waterwheels, all things under heaven/Are heading up, or downward plummeting”) is dancing and light, a half-lit movement realised by Reznek’s perfectly delicate touch. Altogether different is the third movement, headed “This imprisoning world has weight of fetter’s links/ But promise also of justice and heavenly hyacinths”. The bass ostinato is marked “Sempre fff”, something Reznek quite properly took literally. The final descent into silence left the air a-buzz. To fill it, a piece dedicated to “Andrée”, the mother of the translator of the texts, Bruce Wannell. The couplet here is magnificently expressive: “Do what thou wilt, in silence or speaking out/ You are the world’s garden roses in bud and blossoming”. Poignant in the extreme, its spell was broken by the fifth movement, music influenced by Shostakovich (the Shostakovich of the piano Preludes and Fugues) and Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis. Reznek’s virtuosity was fully on display for this tour-de-force.

As pianist, Sadie Harrison has herself given several performances of the Berg Piano Sonata, a work with which she shows a special affinity. The opening spread chord of the final movement is a transposition of her favourite chord from this work. This spread goes on to function as a passacaglia-type bass line. Marked “perfumed” – another reference to the Impressionists, perhaps – the movement is prefaced by the following couplets: “The prospect of non-being helps us swallow life’s bitterness/ To escape the imprisoning world, a virtual bridge can take us hence” and “Beyond even Resurrection we prisoners are led, Bidel/ By the beautiful youth, Hope’s provocative loveliness”. The piece is gorgeously atmospheric and, like the work as a whole, impeccably constructed. Reznek is the perfect pianist for this music: sensitive, dedicated and possessed of fearsome technique. Sadie Harrison’s website is here.

And so, to Africa for the second half. Commissioned by Reznek, Soweto-born and Cape Town-based composer Neo Muyanga’s hade, TaTa (“Sorry, Father”) is simultaneously a tribute to Nelson Mandela, an apology to “Madiba” (Mandela) for the high hopes held of him, and a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the first democratic elections in Africa this year. The piece is described on the composer’s website as an “offshoot” of a greater project, an opera on Mandela. The opening of this piano piece mirrors Mandela’s slow walk out of prison and into freedom.  There is a reference to the healing songs of Basotho people in this poignant piece. There was something of the music of Cardew at times (or maybe that is just my whimsy). Reznek gave a commanding performance, tracking the changing expressive soundscape with what sounded like complete understanding.

Three pieces from Graham Lynch’s White Book 1 (2001) followed. Like Harrison, Lynch holds a PhD from King’s College, London. The three excerpts – “Vanishing Pathways”, “Night Garden” and “The Emperor’s Field” – reveal a composer capable of the most beautiful textures, Debussian ululations and unaccompanied, sinuous lines invoking a most enticing timelessness. Reznek gave the first London performance of Hendrik Hofmeyr’s four-movement Partita Africana back in 2008. Here we had the Preludio and Umsindo. Hofmeyr endured a decade-long exile from his homeland of South Africa during the apartheid era. The brutal accents of the Prelude presaged the quirky, angular, wild dance. It was a great way to end a most enjoyable and stimulating concert.

Colin Clarke

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