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Tuesday, October 20, 2020


(Christopher Duigan)

Duigan demonstrated the ability to traverse both Romantic and quasi-Baroque idioms. (Review by Dr Martin Goldstein)

The first Friends of Music concert of the new season following the lockdown period, which took place on Sunday October 18, 2020, featured a piano recital by highly-acclaimed and widely-followed Christopher Duigan. He has gained a wide following over many years with his Music Revival concerts and recently he has attracted an even wider audience with his twice-weekly streaming of online concerts.

For the concert, Duigan presented a collection of works focusing on the Late Classical and Early Romantic periods with an emphasis on Beethoven. This was in keeping with the celebration of the 250th anniversary of the composer’s birth which was marked earlier in the year by concerts devoted to his music. Duigan’s programme selection was carefully thought-out and, to supplement the works by Beethoven, he selected compositions by composers who either took their inspiration from Beethoven or lived close to his period. He performed Piano Sonata No. 13 in E-flat major ‘Quasi una fantasia’, Op. 27, No. 1 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827); Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 by Robert Schumann (1810-1856); Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 5 by Muzio Clementi (1752-1832) and Piano Sonata in C major ‘Waldstein’, Op. 53 by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). 

Beethoven’s Op. 27 consists of two piano sonatas. The E-flat major is the first and the second is the famous “Moonlight” Sonata. In his performance of this work, Duigan portrayed the sudden changes in genre from Romantic to quasi-Baroque convincingly. In the Allegro Vivace, there was a clear phrase trajectory and great impetus and momentum.

Schumann began work on his Op. 17 in 1836. In June of that year, he drafted a work called Ruines: fantaisie pour le pianoforte. This material probably later formed the first movement. In September of that year, he had the idea of submitting this work to the committee raising funds for a Beethoven memorial. He added two more movements to produce the work in its current form. The work owes much to his infatuation with Clara Wieck, who later became his wife. This manifests itself both in terms of sentiment and also the thematic material which he associated with her. In Duigan’s performance of the first movement of this work, Durchaus fantastich und leidenschaflich vorzutragen, there was a good balance between delicate and bold playing. In the Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten, there was much longing with furtiveness and elusiveness. Duigan’s delicateness of touch ensured that each note was a carefully sculpted entity.

Composed during the years 1785–1802, Clementi’s Op. 25 combines elements of both his earlier and later periods. The characteristic scalar passages in double thirds in the finale are reminiscent of his earlier style. Despite this combination of elements, the work is imbued with stylistic consistency. In his performance of the first movement of this work and throughout the concert, Duigan demonstrated the ability to traverse both Romantic and quasi-Baroque idioms. He understood the Italian penchant for sudden juxtapositions of styles, moving suddenly from “schmaltzy’ to “articulate”. In the Presto, there was a strong dance impulse. Again, Duigan’s carefully perfected balance of touch allowed for a lightness of articulation imbued with a rich tone. He coped well with the challenging double thirds for which Clementi is known. There was a good reconciliation between legato and leggiero articulation. For this work in particular, as with all of the other works in the concert, Duigan demonstrated his rich knowledge of the background behind the composition. His genuine interest in the genesis of the works allowed him to convey this to a broad audience and it did much to enrich the concert experience.

Beethoven’s ‘Waldstein’ Sonata stems from a period in his career devoted to the idea of heroism. He composed it immediately after the ‘Eroica' Symphony during the final months of 1803 and before he composed the 'Appassionata’ Sonata, Op. 57, which he began in the following year. This heroic style was possible thanks to developments in the Viennese piano which had become much heavier with greater string tension. As the final work of the programme, it was an inspiring close to a concert which allowed us to live through so many nuances of mood and technique. In the Allegro con brio, it was clear that Duigan’s strength lies in his ability to allow both hands to work together effectively. In the Rondo: Allegretto moderato, there was a pleasing cantabile melody and incredible finger strength. Duigan maintained this virtuosity right through to the end of the Prestissimo and it seems that he will continue to maintain his pleasant disposition and all-encompassing devotion, both to his art and to his audience, for many years to come. – Dr Martin Goldstein