Wednesday 13 May 2015

Richard Uttley - Bach, Matthew Kaner, and Beethoven, 7 May 2015

St John’s, Smith Square

Bach – Partita no.4 in D major, BWV 828
Matthew Kaner – Dance Suite (world premiere)
Beethoven – Piano Sonata no.28 in A major, op.101

This was a splendid moment of light on an Election Day which… (Well, fill in the gaps: clearly the results pleased some!) In a lunchtime recital at St John’s, Smith Square, Richard Uttley offered excellent, truly thoughtful performance of works by Bach and Beethoven and the world premiere of Matthew Kaner’s Dance Suite, gently revealing dance-like affinities between them, as well as undoubted differences in method and character.

The Ouverture to Bach’s D major Partita had a bright, declamatory opening, followed by much convincing dynamic contrast. Clearly founded upon Bach’s harmonic plan, there was, moreover, a great deal of simple (!) joy to be heard and felt. The Allemande was noble, yet yielding, melody and counterpoint in fine balance – and/or dialectic. Alluringly labyrinthine, it set the situation perfectly for the Courante to come. A gently, subtly affecting Sarabande was another highlight, the Minuet a light preface to a brilliantly committed Gigue.

The two dances as yet making up Matthew Kaner’s Dance Suite are, in his words, ‘very contrasting’, a Mazurka and a Sarabande. I say ‘as yet’, because Kaner plans to add other movements in the future, including ‘a more whimsical and playful Gigue’. Bell effects in the high treble are a remarkable feature of the Mazurka. Rhythmic inflections clearly have some roots in Chopin – how could they not? – but there are hints of other Eastern European composers too, as well as Debussy, without ever quite sounding ‘like’ them. There is – and in Uttley’s performance was – a keen sense of fantasy true both to instrument and genre. The Sarabande is slow, yet moves. Harmonies always intrigued: sometimes familiar, sometimes not. I shall be very keen to hear more! Kaner’s claim of having ‘tried to allow myself to embrace the works from the canon that I feel drawn to, rather than attempting to completely reinvent the medium’ seemed to me spot on.

Beethoven’s A major Sonata, op.101, is no rarity, but I think I have heard it less frequently over the past few years than the later ‘late’ sonatas. Absence certainly made the heart grow fonder, but so did this estimable performance. Melting tone was lavished on the opening of the first movement, but never for its own sake. Chords were as finely weighted as in the Kaner Dance Suite; Uttley never forgot that this is piano music. Rhythm and harmony were held in equally fine balance. The tempo was quite daring in its leisurely nature, yet utterly convinced. Splendid contrast was effected in the second movement. March rhythms were certainly part, but only part of that; harmonic understanding was just as crucial. Its trio offered a long line in the tradition of a Bach dance; the motivic working out could only, however, have been Beethoven’s. The slow movement was gravely beautiful in its eloquence, Beethoven revealed at his most Romantically innig. Bachian and Beethovenian lessons had clearly been well learned in the finale, which offered release, but also struggle yet to come. Form was properly dynamic. Beethoven’s greatness and sheer humanity were celebrated, reaffirmed.