Piers Lane a nightingale ravishes us at the Wigmore Hall – A Christmas treat from a true poet of the piano.

Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). Holberg Suite Op. 40 (1884)
I. Praeludium • II. Sarabande • III. Gavotte • IV. Air • V. Rigaudon

Edvard Greig
Piano Sonata in E minor Op. 7 (1865)
I. Allegro moderato • II. Andante molto • III. Alla menuetto, ma poco più lento • IV. Finale. Molto allegro

Franz Liszt
Weihnachtsbaum S186 (1874-6)
Schlummerlied • Abendglocken • Ehemals

Franz Liszt (1811-1886). Piano Sonata in B minor S178 (1849-53)
Lento assai – Allegro energico – Andante sostenuto – Allegro energico – Lento assai

A favourite pianist with a wide repertoire selected works from two popular composers, one very much a musical nationalist, the other of the widest intellectual interests. Compared to the virtuosic B minor Sonata, Franz Liszt’s Christmas Tree is relatively simple – a suite of pieces first performed on Christmas Day 1881 in the hotel room in Rome where his granddaughter Daniela von Bülow – the work’s dedicatee – was staying.

Piers Lane the nightingale of the piano ravished us with his playing of Grieg in the first half of his Christmas piano recital at the Wigmore Hall.
Charming as ever he decided to keep Grieg and Liszt apart.
Playing the Holberg Suite followed by the youthful Sonata in E minor in the first half and Liszt three pieces from his Christmas Tree Suite and the B minor Sonata in the second.

Some magical playing with the Air of the suite and the Andante molto of the sonata as we have come to expect from this poet of the piano.A refined sense of balance that can persuade us into believing that the piano can sing as beautifully as any nightingale in Berkeley Square.
It was a few years ago that I was stopped in my track as I listened to radio 3 where someone was playing so beautifully:’A Nightingale sings in Berkeley Square’.Listening entranced in my garden in Italy as the announcer told us that it was Piers Lane – I have never forgotten the indelible impression of that performance.
Grieg had taken his piano concerto to show Liszt who famously sat down and sight read it but too fast for the composer’s taste!
Nothing like that tonight with the selfless musicianship that our true nightingale,Piers,shared with us.

Piers with a few well chosen words to guide us on our journey together

The Holberg Suite was written originally for piano when Grieg was at the height of his fame .It was commissioned for the bicentenary celebrations of the birth of the playwright Ludvig Holberg with an attempt to reconstruct the sounds of his epoque.
A Praeludium with a perpetual mobilé of nobility and beauty with harmonies tinged with nostalgia and pungent expression.
A Sarabande and Gavotte of great charm and grace leading to the Aria which was allowed to shine like a jewel of radiance and delicacy in Piers magical hands.
Ending with a Rigaudon played with scintillating rhythmic energy and a jeux perlé bursting into a grandiloquence of rhetorical nobility.
I am not sure that it was a good idea to change the order of a programme that had originally been conceived as Grieg /Liszt – Liszt/Grieg.
The reason was obviously in order to finish the recital with a monument of the Romantic Piano Repertoire :the Liszt B minor Sonata – and it was a truly monumental performance.
But an entire first half of Grieg even in such poetic hands I found hard to enjoy as I would have in smaller doses!
The last time I heard Grieg’s only sonata for piano was with Shura Cherkassky and I remember being surprised that it was not included more often in concert programmes.There are many beautiful things not least the haunting opening theme based on the composers initials E H (b)G played with insinuating romanticism and ravishing sounds of passionate drive.A luscious Andante of Hollywood proportions follows.A surprisingly dramatic ‘Alla menuetto’ and a highly charged Finale all played with architectural shape and drive contrasted with episodes of subtle beauty.

With his supreme good taste and intelligence Piers played these two works by Grieg with masterly musicianship.I secretly longed to hear,though,the magical Lyric Pieces that are so rarely heard in concert rather than these pieces painted on too large a canvas for a nationalistic miniaturist.
The exception ,of course,is the piano concerto which with the aristocratic nobility of a great artist can captivate any audience.The slow movement is one of those moments of magic,like the Mahler Adagietto, that must be high on the list of favourites to take to a desert island .

Piers greeted by Li Siqian with her mentor Norma Fisher looking on https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2021/07/13/li-siqian-streams-of-ravishing-gold-at-st-marys/

Three pieces from the twelve that make up Liszt’s Christmas Tree Suite dedicated to his granddaughter in 1881 were the foil for the B minor sonata.
Liszt had played them for her in her hotel room in Rome.Ibsen was staying just around the corner in via Condotti and it is where he too was inspired to write his revolutionary masterpiece ‘A Doll’s House’in 1879.We produced the play in Rome on it’s 100th anniversary with my wife Ileana Ghione in the ‘women’s lib’ role of Nora!
All roads obviously lead to Rome!

The Wigmore in festive mood

Liszt’s late Christmas Tree are pieces full of luminous sounds of whispered secrets but without any sense of true direction.Liszt with only ten more years on this earth was profetically pointing the way to a future that Busoni was to continue and bring to its ultimate conclusion as mathematics took over from the burning intensity of the heart.
It was a fascinating entrée to the B minor Sonata and luckily in this urtext age we were treated to only three very carefully selected pieces – the other nine will have to wait for eternity!Arrivederci a non presto!

Beethoven eternally present in Bonn thanks to Liszt

The B minor Sonata is dedicated to Schumann in grateful thanks for the dedication of the Fantasie op 17.
It was the work that Schumann donated to the appeal that Liszt had taken in hand to build a monument to his master ,Beethoven,in his birthplace of Bonn.
Many other composers had donated their works to the appeal amongst which Mendelssohn offered his ‘Variations Serieuses’.
The efforts of Liszt were rewarded with the unveiling of the statue in 1845 on the 75th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth and which still very much dominates the city of this universal genius.

The clue to the Sonata is in the first and last pages.The three ideas that become the leit motif of a new container freeing the Sonata form of its constraints.The opening ideas are transformed as if by magic into a landscape that allows more Romantic freedom of expression but still with an architectural form of cohesion.
The last page of the Sonata is pure genius as the disintegration or sublimation of the three motives are combined in this supreme rethought of a revolutionary genius.
Liszt had scratched out the initial bombastic final page and replaced it with a visionary revisitation of almost religious contemplation.The final three chords reach for the heights only to be denied the inevitable with a sudden pianissimo and the same deep note in the bass where the journey had begun.
It was this page that Piers played to perfection and all the trials and tribulations ,triumphal outpouring of transcendental difficulty mixed with whispered secrets of mouthwatering delicacy found at last a mystical peace .It was all played with such consummate artistry that the technical hurdles passed unnoticed as they were part of a much larger musical landscape.
A message that Piers brought to it’s ultimate conclusion and which earned him a spontaneous ovation from the full house that had greeted this much loved artist.

Norma embracing Piers in a Green Room she knows so well. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/05/12/norma-fisher-at-steinway-hall-the-bbc-recordings-on-wings-of-song-the-story-continues/

Norma Fisher was the first to greet him backstage with a heartfelt embrace.
How many times as a student I had heard her on this very stage invited by our mutual teacher Sidney Harrison to proudly show his schoolboy student where our journey might eventually lead.

What to offer as an encore after such an enormous meal?
Of course a sorbet was needed consisting of a ravishing Barcarolle written for an Australian film.
Liszt after all was a supreme show man and Grieg a supreme miniaturist and here combined in one simple piece was the charm and sounds that had beguiled and bewitched us all evening.
Happy Christmas ,dear Piers,and may there be many many more New Years!

Like our teacher Sidney Harrison Norma accompanying her star student Li Siqian to the Wigmore hall to listen and learn from her friend and colleague Piers Lane

Edvard Hagerup Grieg 15 June 1843 – 4 September 1907) the Norwegian composer and pianist was raised in a musical family. His mother was his first piano teacher and taught him to play when he was six. At the age of 15 the boy’s talent was noted by a family friend the violinist Ole Bull who persuaded his parents to send him to the Leipzig Conservatory where the piano department was directed by Ignaz Micheles.He later declared that he left Leipzig Conservatory just as stupid as he entered it. Naturally he did learn something, but his individuality was still a closed book to him.During 1861, Grieg made his debut as a concert pianist in Karlshamn in Sweden and in 1862, he finished his studies in Leipzig and had his first concert in his home town,where his programme included Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata.During 1868, Franz Liszt ,who had not yet met Grieg, wrote a testimonial for him to the Norwegian Ministry of Education, which resulted in Grieg’s obtaining a travel grant.

The two men met in Rome in 1870. During Grieg’s first visit, they examined Grieg’s Violin Sonata No. 1, which pleased Liszt greatly. On his second visit in April, Grieg brought with him the manuscript of his Piano Concerto, which Liszt proceeded to sightread (including the orchestral arrangement). Liszt’s rendition greatly impressed his audience, although Grieg said gently to him that he played the first movement too quickly. Liszt also gave Grieg some advice on orchestration (for example, to give the melody of the second theme in the first movement to a solo trumpet, which Grieg himself chose not to accept).The Holberg Suite, op.40, more properly From Holberg’s Time is in Norwegian: Fra Holbergs tid), subtitled “Suite in olden style” (Norwegian: Suite i gammel stil), is a suite of five movements based on eighteenth – century dance forms, and was written by in 1884 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Dano-Norwegian humanist playwright Ludvig Holberg (1684–1754).It exemplifies nineteenth-century music which makes use of musical styles and forms from the preceding century.
It was originally composed for the piano, but a year later was adapted by Grieg himself for string orchestra

Liszt’s Weihnachtsbaum was chiefly composed between 1874 and 1876. The set of 12 pieces represents Christmas from three different viewpoints, with hymns (including Adeste Fideles), then a series of pieces portraying Christmas with an attitude of child- like purity (e.g. No. 7, Schlummerlied), and finally a Christmas tinted with experience (No. 9, Abendglocken, and No. 10, Ehemals). There is a further reading of Ehemals, in which it may also represent Liszt’s first meeting with his lover Princess Sayn-Wittgenstein, a match prevented by family and religion.

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