Paul Guinery’s voice will be familiar to Radio 3 listeners, but, as well as being an announcer, he is also an accomplished pianist, with CDs of Rachmaninov and contemporaries of Delius to his name. Wednesday evening saw him perform a selection of piano music from Eastern Europe.
Unsurprisingly, Rachmaninov was well represented by four contrasting Preludes in C sharp minor, G flat, E flat and G minor. The C sharp minor prelude is so famous that it is, these days, seldom played, but it was a joy to hear Guinery’s richly dramatic interpretation of it, from the adamantine opening notes through to a magical slowing to a near-stop before the Agitato section and the quietest of finishes. The G minor prelude has a stormy feel to it, and was delivered with an appropriate degree of verve, which contrasted well with both the G flat and E flat works from the same opus number: the yearning, wandering little tunes of the former were executed with delicate intimacy, and the blowsy grand geste nature of the latter was given full measure, leaving the audience in no doubt that this came from the same musical wellspring as the composer’s second piano concerto.
The Polish mazurka was greatly loved by Chopin, who returned to the form time and again across his career, and four of them made another contrasting set that demonstrated Chopin’s art-music approach to the form; all of them have little of the folk-dance about them, Chopin playing subtly with the three-four time to create cultivated pieces that exude more than a whiff of the Paris salon – in particular the opus 17 in A minor which maintains throughout a very French feeling of tristesse. Guinery’s performance was suitably engaging and elegant, summoning just the right Franco-Polish feel, and applying rubato where needed. There were also some charming surprises: the dramatic gesture at the end of the A minor work, that faded into wistful decay, and the strange spiky tune in the middle of the B flat minor mazurka that might have been written by Martinů in the next century. The mazurkas were bracketed by two contrasting works by Chopin: the famous C-sharp-minor Nocturne – which gave a limpid opening to the set – and to close, a lesser-known work, his rumbustious opus 43 Tarentelle, played with furious precision.
The piano works of the Czech Leoš Janáček rarely receive an outing, and it was a special treat to hear an accomplished performance of four pieces from his On An Overgrown Path. Again, there were some lovely contrasts in the faintly impressionistic works – the delicate A Blown-Away Leaf, the sudden break into an almost- mazurka in the middle of The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away, the underscore of solemn organ music in The Madonna of Frýdek and the fluttering kisses of parting lovers in Good Night! The Janáček was followed by a bravura account of Ernó Dohnányi’s well-known Rhapsody in C and, to break the Eastern-European mood, a pair of delightful lollipops: Francis Poulenc’s Humoresque and Xavier Montsalvatge’s wittily quirky rhumba from Tres Divertimentos.
Perhaps the only piece that, in the light of what followed, seemed slightly out of place was the opening work of the concert: Mozart’s K.333 sonata in B flat. Guinery gave it a suitably mannered and dainty performance, but it somehow didn’t work with the piano and the building, and felt a little too gazelle-like in the company of the piano lions.