Adelaide Festival. Adelaide Town Hall. 6 Mar 2023
Presented in association with Musica Viva, this one-off concert performed by French pianist Cédric Tiberghien as part of the Adelaide Festival was an absolute joy. Not only was Tiberghien’s program immensely enjoyable, it was also intellectually stimulating. Pleasingly, he spoke to the audience in an accessible way about the music and what it means to him as a musician. His well-chosen remarks provided a framework with which we could approach the concert.
Early in his remarks, Tiberghien commented that the program he had selected could be thought of as an introduction to the art of musical variation, which is the technique of varying melody, rhythm, harmony, and the like to create a stimulating composition. His program featured three excellent examples: JS Bach’s Chaconne in D minor from the Partita for solo violin No.2 in D minor BWV1004, arranged by Brahms for the left hand alone on piano; Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K331; and Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, Op.35. There was also a ‘performance’ of Cage’s controversial piece 4’33” but more on that later!
The Chaconne is an iconic and mighty piece. It is the most well-known section from all of Bach’s compositions for solo violin, and has been arranged for other instruments many times and is a virtuosic favourite. It comprises a simple theme of four bars, which is then varied not less than sixty four times. It’s monumental in its conception! Tiberghien remarked that the piece is essentially played by the left hand of a violinist, and Brahms’ transcription for left hand therefore has a purity and faithfulness about it. In May last year Jayson Gillham gave a recital in the Elder Hall and included the Chaconne. This reviewer commented at the time that Gillham was “…animated at the keyboard as he arched his back and dealt with the physicality and virtuosity of the piece. It ended on a long sustained D, that gradually became an eery silence before the audience erupted into exuberant applause.” There was the same reaction to Tiberghien’s performance of the Brahms transcription tonight, and at times he resembled Glenn Gould as he silently mouthed words at the keyboard. Even though just for one hand, it is still physically demanding and requires the performer to give their all as they render up everything the piece has to give, whilst retaining the visceral sense of melody and rhythm. Tiberghien achieved all that.
Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A, K331, is best known for its final ‘rondo alla turca’ or ‘Turkish March’ movement, but Tiberghien included it in the program because the first movement is a theme and a set of six variations which occupy well over half the duration of the entire sonata. The audience spontaneously showed its appreciation by resoundingly applauding Tiberghien at the end of the first movement.
Throughout, he produced exquisite bell-like tones in the upper register of the Steinway, and allowed Mozart’s exquisite melodies to shine through. He took the rondo movement at a very brisk pace and imposed his own style and interpretation, and the rolling arpeggiated chords in the right hand were executed with flamboyant, almost arrogant tosses of the wrist. The audience were rightfully whipped up to a crescendo themselves. It was jaw-droppingly transfixing!
Curiously Tiberghien then ‘performed’ Cage’s 4’33”, which has the performer sitting at the keyboard doing absolutely nothing for four minutes and thirty three seconds (or thereabouts). Cage, an experimental composer, judiciously used silence as an emotive feature of music and felt that any auditory experience may constitute music, even silence. In essence, 4’33” comprises the sounds of the immediate environment that the listener hears while it is performed. It is an interesting experience to be seated in an auditorium with hundreds of other concert goers listening to nothing but your own heartbeat, your breathing, an occasional cough, the creak of a chair, or the gentle hum of air circulating around you. Then time was up, the audience applauded (!) and Tiberghien commented that just as we were listening to him, he was also listening to us. He added that listening itself is an art, and noted that when one listens carefully to a theme and a set of variations it is akin to glimpsing inside the mind of the composer as they go about their craft.
Tiberghien finished the concert with Beethoven’s so-called Eroica Variations, Op.35. The theme was later used by Beethoven in the finale of his celebrated Symphony No.3 “Eroica” in E flat major, Op.55, but it had also been used in several other compositions as well. Tiberghien displayed elegant legato with judicious and minimal pedalling. The final variations had him bodily lifting himself from the piano bench as he dealt with the robustness of the piece, before settling into a joyous and playful performance of the final andante con moto variation.
Tiberghien gave an object lesson in listening with one’s ears and one’s intellect. It was a delight. Virtuosity in body and in mind.
When: 6 Mar
Where: Adelaide Town Hall