Conway Hall, Holborn

Holborn’s acoustically comfortable Conway Hall quietly goes about its Sunday evening business, presenting top-class music-making to enthusiastically discerning audiences, and this latest recital, from Spanish pianist Maria Canyigueral, was Conway at its best.

Her programme was a brilliantly obvious one, presenting the three Op.2 Sonatas with which Beethoven set out his stall as a composer for piano, and what a journey they represent. All three are dedicated to his teacher Josef Haydn, and begin with a nod to their prickly tuition time together before moving on to a glorious foretaste of what lay ahead for Beethoven.

In an evening of poise, command and interpretative integrity, Canyigueral launched the F minor Sonata with a lightness of touch which permitted occasional moments of explosive power. She allowed the music to speak for itself, all the drama emerging from the notes themselves, the sforzandi, the off-beat distortions, her chording in the adagio rich beneath fluent fioriture. In the finale she phrased so beautifully Beethoven’s brief homage to his beloved Mozart, with whom he yearned to have studied.

Canyigueral was alert to the gruff wit of the A major Sonata’s opening movement, Beethoven beginning to shake off any Haydnesque dust. Her delineation of the bass line in the largo was pizzicato-like, and she was meltingly expressive in the finale’s gracious lyricism.

Finally came another world with the imposing C major Sonata, a big-boned work receiving here a big-boned performance. There are so many awesome technical difficulties, from the interlacing thirds of the opening right through to the chains of first-inversion chords in the finale, with so much else along the way. Canyigueral was equal to all these demands in this textural maelstrom, as well as being able to create mysterious harmonic explorations in the finales of the outer movements. Her dynamic contrasts in the adagio were well conveyed by the splendid Conway Bosendorfer – which responded gratefully to a pianist of the calibre of Maria Canyigueral.

Christopher Morley

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