By: Julia Gasper 26 November 2011.
This concert given by the impressive young pianist Alessandro Taverna and the Royal String Quartet had a Polish theme and without a doubt the performances were all polished to perfection.
Taverna, who has won a string of international prizes, played three works by Chopin, the first and last being familiar. His performance of the familiar Waltz in C Sharp minor op. 64 no. 2 was mature and full of insight. There is no doubt that he possesses that special something that enables one to play Chopin. His speed was unhurried and he offered interesting detail such as the highlighting of the right hand thumb notes in bars 49-60 and on the last page, creating just the kind of hidden melody that Chopin loved. He followed this with the Introduction and Rondo in E flat major Op.16, a piece frankly written for virtuoso display. Taverna played with superb virtuosity, poise and distinction, not forgetting a touch of wit here and there. This sparkled like vintage champagne.
The Royal String Quartet, a group of young players from Poland, performed two modern works by Polish composers. The string quartet no, 1 by Gorecki was full of experimental effects and rough textures like raw silk or tree bark. The piece starts with eerie, foggy, groping sounds made by the bow high on the bridge and works up to a loud and frenetic climax before fading away to end with a calm, single note like a beam of pale sunlight. The String Quartet no. 2 by Szymanowski also made unconventional demands on the players, who used spiccato and tremolando to conjure up a range of ghostly sounds. The second movement blends pizzicato and bold discords, closing with a flourish of such bravado that it brought a smile to some of the audience. The last movement is a fugue whose wistful theme soon grows into a sharp-toothed monster, flailing its wings and breathing fire. The rapport between these four talented players is remarkable, they seem to live and breathe together.
In the second half all the players joined to perform Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in E minor, a much-loved work of unsurpassable poetry and lyricism. It is more familiar in arrangements for a full orchestra, who can however feel under-utilized as their parts are not equal to the piano’s dominant role. Taverna’s performance of this work was a sheer joy, dazzling and richly expressive by turns. He played the last movement, a Rondo with vivacity and diamond brilliance. (Its sprightly theme is in my opinion meant to be an “ecossaise”, a then fashionable Scottish dance – so much for the Polish theme!) I have no doubt that Alessandro Taverna is a player whose reputation will go on growing, and I will be eager to hear him again if he ever returns to this part of the world.