Presented by Marianna Grynchuk. Pilgirm Church. 12 Mar 2016
In her programme notes, Marianna Grynchuk observes that the “[piano] sonata is truly ageless and limitless. It remains one of the principal means of taking the listener on an exhilarating, captivating and thought provoking journey”, and course she is right. The programming for her recital, The Sonata: Reflections of Life, was indeed a journey that traversed two-hundred-and-ten years of compositional styles, commencing with Mozart and finishing with Nigel Westlake. We heard forms ranging from strict classical, through romanticism to contemporary free-form.
Grynchuk is an exceptionally talented young pianist who has performed extensively and won multiple awards. Her technique is superb and she is at her best when exploring lyricism. Grynchuk brought out the playfulness of Mozart’s Sonata in B flat K333 and excelled with the lyricism of the andante cantabile second movement but perhaps did not bring out fully the tension that exists in the occasional dissonance.
For her second piece, Grynchuk chose Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F minor, the so called Appassionata. Czerny once famously said that “…Beethoven’s compositions must be played differently from anyone else's. It is not easy to express this difference in words." I believe this to be true, and all dozen or so recordings by different pianists of the Beethoven sonatas that I own are all fundamentally different in their approach.
Grynchuk’s approach to the Appassionata is also different, and I suspect will be different the next time she performs it. Beethoven’s piano music is like that – it is open to so much interpretation. Next time she might alter the dynamic balance between the left and right hands, so that the upper octaves of the piano are not overwhelmed by the lowest notes of the instrument, something that Beethoven was so keen to explore and often at great volume! This was especially evident in the andante second and allegro third movements, and also had the effect of occasionally dislocating the synchronization between left and right hands.
One of Grynchuk’s teachers, the celebrated Eleanora Silvan, is on the ‘Liszt list’, meaning that Liszt taught the teacher of her teacher’s teacher! Some of this heritage came out during Grynchuk’s performance of Liszt’s mighty Sonata in B minor. It’s a brute to play, demands strong technique and takes no hostages. It is emotionally charged and needs to be played with deep understanding. Grynchuk did that and her performance was a highlight of the concert. As the final transcendent note faded away, it took the audience a full ten seconds to return from where they had been transported to offer up enthusiastic and well-deserved applause.
Nigel Westlake’s Piano Sonata No. 1 is in an altogether different style, and its inclusion in the program rounded out the journey from classicism to modernism. It lacks the tonal structures of ‘conventional’ sonatas and in many senses might be considered to be three stand-alone pieces that independently explore a myriad of atonal, minimalist and improvisatory musical ideas. It is the sort of composition that is best appreciated through live performance – it’s exciting to watch – and Grynchuk was worth watching.
Where: Pilgrim Church