Valerie Tryon (biography) possesses an unbelievable capacity to store music in her brain; her repertoire of more than sixty concertos is enormous. Although she only landed at Heathrow on Thursday, she appeared to be unbelievably refreshed and more than ready to perform on Saturday night. She arrived shortly before the recital, dressed for the occasion, with no music scores, and barely practiced (although she did at least check the piano!). Most surprisingly she did not even appear to know what she was playing until she took a look at the programme for the evening – it having been put together not by her, but by her manager, Howard Greenwood. And Howard had generously put together a fabulously long programme of Scarlatti, Mozart, Chopin, Grieg, Liszt and Grunfeld which was colourful, diverse and kept us entertained all evening. Each half was about 50 minutes; in normal concerts you would get something like 35 – 40 minutes each, maximum. We were so privileged!
The two Scarlatti Sonatas with their acrobatic and gymnastic elements, which Valerie seemed to play without much effort, were perfect warm up pieces. Everybody must have wondered how she managed to cross hands so quickly without pressing the wrong keys! Mozart Sonata in A followed and I particularly liked the second movement Andante cantabile con espressione. Literally, it was a slow and beautifully expressive piece with singing tones.
Next Chopin: Valerie played Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Scherzo No. 3 in C# Minor, and Polonaise in A Flat Major. Chopin is a very popular composer at Breinton, and this Ballade and this Polonaise have been played by three different pianists. Each musician had their own interpretation and I've loved them all. Ballade No. 4, my all time favourite, was wonderful. As I wrote in my review of Evelyne Berezovsky's recital two years ago, this ballade was described by the late John Ogdon as "the most exalted, intense and sublimely powerful of all Chopin's compositions... It is unbelievable that it lasts only twelve minutes, for it contains the experience of a lifetime". Indeed it was a life: full of sorrow, pain, dream, anger.
Scherzo No. 3 was bold, strong and aggressive, but at the same time very melodious. Those repeated fierce octaves were impressive. Polonaise in A flat Major is such a show case piece. It is victorious and triumphant, and Valerie displayed plenty of that. According to the programme note, it was written by Chopin at the stage of life where his health was in serious decline. How could he create such virtuosity when he was suffering so much?
After the interval, Valerie started the second half with Lyric Pieces by Grieg. It was the first time that the works of Grieg have been played at Breinton, and what a delight it was. In the first piece, March of the Trolls, Valerie showed off some impressively consistent stoccato; I could picture the scene in my head where the mischievous Norwegian dwarf was getting into trouble. Nocturne"s beautiful melody was expressed fully, it was simply delightful. Wedding Day at Troldhaugen is a well known piece; Valerie said that she thought the middle part was a matrimonial dance by the couple to the vicar. And sure enough, it sounded like that!
Liszt"s Venezia di Napoli was just as impressive. As is always the case with Liszt pieces, these three works (Gondoliera, Canzone, and Tarantella) are technically very demanding. Valerie was very cool, just sat up straight and got on with those monstrous pieces (especially Tarantella, a massive piece which ran wild!). What pianism!
Grunfeld"s Soirée de Vienne was the encore piece to conclude this evening. The programme was cleverly made, moving from Troldhaugen, Norway, to Venice, to Vienna. This beautiful waltz is a fantasy on themes by Johann Strauss, who was Grunfeld"s great friend. Marvellously and gorgeously played, I thought this piece suited Valerie so well.
Another very successful evening at Breinton; I am sincerely grateful to Howard Greenwood for making this recital happen and introducing such a wonderful international artist to us.