Sunderland Pianoforte Society continued its 2011-2012 season on Tuesday 6th. December 2011 by celebrating the 200th. anniversary of the birth of the great Hungarian Pianist/Composer Franz(Ferenc) Liszt. The Society had decided that this was an opportunity to invite back Antony Peebles for this celebration. He last played for the Society in 1972 and since then has played in 131 different countries around the world and has become a specialist in, and advocate of, the work of Liszt.
Antony also acknowledges the problems being faced by small classical music societies across the whole of England, and sympathises with them to the extent that he offers his services at a much-reduced fee for small groups such as Sunderland. This presents a wonderful opportunity to obtain the highly experienced and much praised work of one of England’s foremost soloists who has held himself at the highest level in both solo recital and concerto work throughout one of the longest careers on the classical music scene.
Needless to say, Antony did not disappoint, talking to his audience before every piece, he opened his programme with two of Liszt’s many piano transcriptions: Schubert’s songs “Litany” and “Hark!Hark! The Lark”. This second was a special favourite in early Victorian Britain, when he visited the country, coming to the North East by way of Scotland. Antony Peebles has a specially personal way of bringing Liszt’s brilliance to the fore in these ever-creative and intensely clever transcriptions. He makes it clear that these are not mere “arrangements”, they are re-creations of Schubert’s work in Liszt’s own inimitable style, and highly satisfying as solo piano pieces in their own right.
Then came the major work that completed part 1 of this grand recital: the fabulous Sonata in B minor; surely one of the greatest works ever created for the piano keyboard.
Breaking new ground in almost every bar, this huge one-movement work (almost half-an-hour long) grew magnificently under the brilliantly controlled fingers of Antony Peebles. We have heard this sonata at Sunderland many times over the years played by some of the world’s finest pianists. It always remains a fresh mystery of creation, and no more so than in this performance. Antony made the sonata’s architecture grow before our very eyes without pressure or stress of any kind. This is a fiendishly difficult work demanding every piano technique (as you might expect from Liszt!) but it is also especially challenging for the soloist to make an integrated “performance” of such a mammoth piece. This Antony Peebles did quite magnificently. He even talked to the audience in his introduction about Liszt’s very original use of his basic materials, demonstrating at the piano how they were completely transformed throughout the work into what appeared to be new melodies as the work built and progressed through its various moods. It takes someone of great knowledge and experience to make abstract musical ideas, as complex as these, so clear. The whole performance was a marvel that had the appreciative audience on the edge of their seats with tension and excitement.
The second half was filled by another transcription – this time of a great piece of orchestral music by Wagner (Liszt’s son-in-law) and two original pieces for solo piano.
The Wagner transcription is rarely heard probably because it is so difficult to “bring off”
as Liszt transcribes pure orchestral sound into terms the keyboard (and ten fingers!)can cope with. This amazing piece transcribed the “Liebestod” which forms the actual conclusion of Act III of Wagner’s opera “Tristan und Isolde”. It is a “tall order” to expect to transform this huge vocal and orchestral score into terms that a mere ten fingers on two hands can express satisfactorily. Again, amazingly done so well and so sympathetically by Antony. He really enjoyed losing himself in the beauties of Sunderland’s glorious Steinway concert grand. He said afterwards that he was really taken with the instrument and he showed great interest in the fascinating historical story of this unique piano.
The two original pieces by Liszt were the “Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude” and the ever-so-famous “Hungarian Rhapsodxy No.2” . The first of these was the third of a set of pieces that (in fact) were Liszt’s own favourites that he published in 1853 under the title “Harmonies poétiques et religieuses”. This is by far the longest of the whole group and offers great challenges to the interpretational aspects to the soloist. Of course, as in all of Liszt’s works, there are plenty of challenges to sheer finger techniques. Antony took all of this in his stride and presented a wonderfully polished and moving
version of the piece.
Clearly Antony chose the “Hungarian Rhapsody No.2” not only because of its familiarity but because it offers a lighter yet completely stimulating finale for any concert.
It is, of course, full of marvellous tunes and piano virtuoso technique and Antony’s performance brought all the rhythmic aspects of Liszt’s passionate “Hungarianisms” well to the fore. The Sunderland audience simply loved the excitement of it all. Their enthusiastic and generous applause made up for the small number in the room. Antony
responded with a lovely Brahms encore: the Waltz in A flat from Op.35.
The Sunderland audience had enjoyed a wonderful series of presentations from an “elder statesman” of British pianism who is renowned across the globe for his Liszt interpretations. This really was a fine tribute to commemorate the 200th. anniversary of
that great composer’s birth.