Dynamic pianist with a wide tonal range impresses Friends of Music audience. (Review by Michael Green)
At the age of 26 the Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček is a seasoned veteran of the concert hall. The son of two professional pianists, he gave his first concert at the age of four! He was 16 when he made his first major appearance as a soloist, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, and since then he has given more than a thousand concerts in 27 countries in Europe and North America.
The audience at his first recital in Durban, for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre, expected something exceptional and they were not disappointed. In a programme of stimulating and enjoyable music, most of it off the beaten track, he showed that he is a dynamic pianist with a wide tonal range, strong but poetic, and with a technique that makes light of difficulties.
He opened with Brahms’s Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118, beautiful and varied works, part of a cluster of short piano compositions that Brahms wrote in the 1890’s, towards the end of his life. Vondráček gave an extraordinarily powerful performance of the final Intermezzo in E flat minor, a far-ranging interpretation of the mediaeval Dies Irae, Day of Wrath, theme that has attracted so many composers.
Two Russian composers of the early 20th century gave the pianist plenty of opportunity to display his technical prowess. Alexander Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 4 in F sharp major, written in 1903, is a two-movement work full of the mystical ecstasy so typical of this composer (his most famous composition is called Poem of Ecstasy). Vondráček gave an exciting performance of this difficult and enigmatic music.
Sergei Rachmaninov wrote his Variations on a Theme of Corelli in 1931. Arcangelo Corelli used the theme in a violin sonata in 1700 but the tune goes back further than that; it is an old Portuguese/Spanish folk song called La Folia.
Rachmaninov’s 20 variations are highly inventive, consistently interesting and attractive, and written in Rachmaninov’s distinctive virtuoso style. Corelli would have been very surprised to hear this version of “his” tune. The performance was outstanding.
The shorter works on the programme were Dazzle by the Cape Town composer Peter Klatzow, a vivid, whimsical, and ingenious display of “light effects” from the piano; two Chopin Nocturnes, nothing very nocturnal about Vondráček’s highly individual interpretations; and Three Czech Dances by his 20th century compatriot, Bohuslav Martinu - fast, robust, glittering and totally enjoyable.
The Prelude Performer of the evening, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, was a promising 14-year-old violinist, Kiara Moodley, who is a pupil at Eden College. - Michael Green