To say the piano is one, if not the, most accomplished musical instruments humankind has produced is doubtless just about too obvious to state. But i want to point it out again. Just as i want to say how it remains my favourite musical instrument. Not just because i learned to play it once, and would love to be fluent with it still. But because I find the sounds of a piano can bind and transport me more often and completely than any other instrument. Then, when a piano is in dialogue with an orchestra in another impressive invention of art and craft – the concerto – even more power to move emotion and imagination is generated; particularly if the concerto is from the classical Romantic repertoire.
Romanticism seems by nature especially tuned to youth. In one’s teens and twenties all the stuff of the Romantic art-forms present as perfect sense, the only true interpretation and representation of the world, and we wallow in it, unresisting and happy. Then after a while, so much of it cloys and to read those emotionally convoluted poems and listen to all that soaring orchestral lushness is not so easy or necessary any more. One quietly lets the Romantics slip out of one’s life and seeks simpler, subtler stuff.
Well not slip out of one’s life entirely. There are great Romantic works that, given the opportunity now and then [now and then] can grab you still and twist the guts with their big frisson thrill. We were treated to one of these last Saturday evening. At the Town Hall the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra had invited Emmanuel Despax to join them in Schumann’s Piano Concerto. Together they made this stirring, transporting music quite wonderful, indeed wholly exhilarating to hear, so we were charmed as if hearing it in the magic of the first time all over again.
Emmanuel Despax, the young French pianist who has currently made his home in London to be near his teacher, has been rightly lauded as an already accomplished and most promising musician. His talent to make Schumann’s music speak eloquently and powerfully was abundantly clear. He showed me, and it seemed the whole audience, why we love being thrilled by this concerto. And when he conceded to the demand for more, his playing of a Chopin Etude [i think it was probably an etude, it was a piece i did not know] revealed other aspects of his power of interpretation at the piano keyboard. I would be happy to listen to this young guy play the piano quite often.