United Kingdom Mozart, Beethoven, R. Schumann: Luka Okros (piano). Turner Sims, Southampton, 2.2.2023. (CK)
Mozart – Piano Sonata No.8 in A minor, K.310
Beethoven – Piano Sonata No.8 in C minor, Op.13 Pathétique
R. Schumann – Fantasie in C major, Op.17
The engaging Georgian pianist Luka Okros – born in Tbilisi, based in London – brought three youthful masterpieces to Southampton’s Turner Sims, each of them written in the composer’s twenties (Okros himself is barely out of them).
The first, Mozart’s A minor Sonata K.310, written shortly after the death of his mother, is perhaps the most astonishing of the three. Sitting between two perfectly innocuous sonatas (K.309 and K.311), it is a work, in the words of Nicholas Kenyon, ‘for which nothing prepares us.’ For Charles Rosen, more prosaically, it is ‘the first of Mozart’s essays in the tragic vein.’ We do not generally go to Mozart’s piano sonatas for his profoundest utterances, or even to trace the development of his genius; yet here we are confounded. Or, to put it another way, it is the job of the pianist to confound us.
Okros was equal to the task. The first movement has passages of great brilliance, but the music cannot escape the repeated minor-key falling figure – like a dejected sigh – with which it opens. Okros’s playing made this perfectly clear. He phrased the gentle opening of the Andante cantabile with great tenderness; the turbulence that gradually (and disturbingly) invades the music acquired almost Beethovenian force, making the opening a fragile memory. Okros’s Presto finale was unrelentingly fast, giving the music a febrile, hunted quality, until the final abrupt descending chords slammed the sonata shut.
If there was a reservation, it was about scale and lightness of touch. It is difficult to know whether this was to do with the pianist, the piano itself, or the acoustic of a sparsely populated hall. It would be interesting to hear the sonata on the type of early piano Mozart was used to – Kenyon writes of Mozart’s enthusiasm at the time of its composition for the pianos of Andreas Stein, which were renowned specifically for their lightness of touch. There could be no such quibbles about Beethoven’s Pathetique – the earliest of his sonatas to acquire a nickname – which Okros dispatched with great dexterity and an unfailing sense of drama. His playing of the well-known slow movement – another Andante cantabile – was thoughtful and unexaggerated.
On the face of it, Schumann’s magnificent Fantasie in C seems to share the form of the two preceding works – that of a three-movement sonata: but it is nothing of the kind. Schumann, full-blooded Romantic that he was, invented his own forms for expressing his feelings and fantasies, and here he created a heroically extended structure into which to pour his pent-up passion for Clara Wieck, forbidden by her father to marry him. Its opening is like the breaking of a dam: the pianist has to throw caution to the winds, and Okros did just that. He conveyed the music’s ebb and flow, its quiet and tender episodes and its great surges of emotion, within a powerfully maintained onward momentum; we were never for a moment becalmed. At its best, as here, Okros’s playing has considerable panache. Ironically, perhaps, he reserved his most delicate playing for his encores, Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor and Schumann’s Der Dichter spricht – The Poet Speaks – the hushed, magical chords that lull his Kinderszenen to silence and to sleep.
In May, Paul Lewis and Angela Hewitt will be giving recitals at the Turner Sims: doubtless both will play to packed houses, and rightly so. It was a shame that the warmly appreciative audience for Okros was not larger. He already has eight first prizes under his belt in international piano competitions: I for one will be looking out for his name, and wishing him a bright future.