The summer heat is beginning to fade in our memories; there are showers in the air, so the new autumn concert season must be upon us. As if to remind us, pianist Howard Southern gave a warm and well appreciated romantic recital last Saturday August 25 based around works by Brahms and Schumann.
In the first half he drew attention to Brahms’ dichotomy in wishing to be taken seriously for his more complex and challenging works, while being loved for his more popular pieces – one begins to realise the world has not changed much!
He opened with the Intermezzo from Brahms’ Op118, where gently romantic and affective phrasing lulled us into the lively Capriccio from Op76 and the Intermezzo from Op117 with its lovely fluidity of line.
If these were from the more serious side of Brahms’ output the following Hungarian Dance WoO1 was obviously immediately popular, but led into the four movements of the four piano pieces Op119. This produced almost unexpected clarity in the opening Intermezzo and a final Rhapsody which came close to the enthusiasm of the Hungarian Dance.
After the interval we were with Schumann for his Op13 Etudes Symphoniques which included the five posthumous variations. After the rather heavily Baroque feel of the initial theme Schumann indulges himself in a wide range of variations but it is the posthumous movements which stand out. The third variation is rich and engaging – almost prefiguring Rachmaninoff in its romanticism – and the very moving lyricism of the fifth variation. By which time we come to the final Allegro brillante which Howard Southern explained with great ease at the start, bringing out the simplest of reasons for its structure and immediacy. It was a wonderful and exhilarating conclusion to the evening – the first of many for the new season, which continues with the Litfest from 31 August to 2 September and the International Composers Festival 2018 form 21 – 23 September. By Brian Hick.