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Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Most unusual piano recital gives astonishing display of power and dexterity with one hand. (Review by Michael Green)

This was the most unusual piano recital I have ever attended. Most of the works played were for left hand alone, and the pianist, 32-year-old Maxime Zecchini, who comes from France, gave an astonishing display of power and dexterity with one hand.

For most pianists, the left hand is much more difficult than the right. It requires long hours of practice for the left to match the right in nimbleness and fluency. Maxime Zecchini has taken this to the ultimate by developing an entire repertory of left-hand compositions, and he presented several of these in his recital for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre. He is, I was told, left-handed.

He opened with an Etude (study) by a little-known Russian composer, Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931). This began with a gentle theme adorned by arpeggios, the tune given due emphasis by the pianist¸ and it soon became an exciting virtuoso piece.

Zecchini’s ability to mark out a theme in a forest of accompanying notes was illustrated again in a Caprice Romantique by the 20th century French composer Pierre Sancan.

Then came an ambitious and clever transcription by Zecchini himself of the first movement of Saint-Saens’s fourth piano concerto. This must have been very tiring to play - loud chords, big leaps, rapid runs, all this with the pianist’s right arm hanging limply at his side, a sight that some members of the audience found oddly disturbing.

The left-hand part of the programme was completed with a suite by the Czech composer Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) and an Etude by Bela Bartok, written in 1903, when the composer was 22. This turned out, unexpectedly, to be a brilliant piece in the late romantic style, quite different from the often austere music of Bartok’s later years. “Would you have guessed that was by Bartok?” somebody asked me.

Conventional two-hand music was represented on the programme by highly individual and somewhat unconventional interpretations of Mozart’s well-known Fantasy in D minor, Chopin’s first Nocturne and two intermezzi from Brahms’s Op. 117.

Will Maxime Zecchini’s pioneering work start a new vogue in left-hand performances? I don’t think so. In a programme note, he said that “the idea that just five fingers could sound like two hands seemed an extraordinary wonder to me, and a number of composers have managed to take up the challenge”. Yes, but why not use both hands?

The Prelude Performers of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were four talented clarinet players, Brett Alborough, Thomis Sweet, Wesley Lewis and Daniella Straeuli-Paul. They played music by Mozart and the American composer Clare Grundman. - Michael Green