Photo, Patrick Allen

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Wigmore Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Remember those 1930s’ composer portraits by Oswald Barrett (‘Batt’ of the Radio Times)? The one of Beethoven nearing his end? “His workroom in the old [House of the Black Spaniard]. Behind him stands his Graf piano, wrecked by his frantic efforts to hear his own playing. Odd coins lie scattered among the litter on his table. There are his ear-trumpets, his conversation books – in which any visitor would have to write what he wished to say – with a carpenter’s pencil, letters, quill pens, a broken coffee cup, remnants of food and his candlesticks.” Like many of my generation, I grew up with these images. The deaf, ageing, unkempt man of the late Quartets, the Ninth Symphony. Whose final Piano Sonatas were about fire and brimstone, fractured wood, and jangling broken strings, to be assaulted accordingly. Or were they? Plenty of post-war pianists, great and small, certainly seemed to perpetrate the idea. Many, variously, still do, if less extremely.

Enter Dinara Klinton, born in Kharkiv, Moscow-trained, inaugural Benjamin Britten Piano Fellow at the Royal College of Music, and a pianist who first came my way in 2016 through a German reference recording of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies. Focussing on two ‘end of era’ Sonatas – Beethoven’s last, Opus 111, and Prokofiev’s Eighth, Opus 84, premiered by Gilels in 1944 – this lunchtime Wigmore recital (RCM/Philip Loubser Foundation) showcased her strengths compellingly. She’s a player who brings decisive architecture, tensile rhythms, and charged intellect and emotions to her music-making. Her pianism is granite impassive, her palette of colours and nuances fantastical. Forget external dramatisation, gratuitous gesture, playing to the gallery. You get what you see – uncompromising honesty to the notes, the composer, art. Mentored early on by Vladimir Krainev, latterly Dina Parakhina, her facility is a thing of beauty.

In recent years her Beethoven has been quietly maturing. I have a fondness for her ‘little’ Opus 78 F-sharp Sonata, as much for its fleetness as cadential shaping. Her Opus 101 has acquired tautly symphonic dimensions. Opus 111 – “this world and the world to come” (Edwin Fischer), extraordinary in its day, still baffling – poses other challenges. Easy to say maybe but from the outset her strength was to present it from intimately within the page. Where others will hammer home its opening diminished-seventh fortissimo, she scaled it back to forte, as intended. Where some take the ensuing arpeggio figures secco (the Kempff-Richter-Yudina stance), she advanced the original pedalling, giving us a ‘wet’ prolongation (something, a century ago, Tovey was happy to justify and Schnabel to implement). Psychologically, she made repeats interesting, not merely replications. The murmured (treacherous) trills of the second movement were immaculately balanced, precision-perfect, like raindrops purling off autumn leaves. Preceding, the voicing and clarity of the high register pianissimo demisemiquavers and left-hand staccatos, initially dry then progressively pedalled as the chords became more harmonically coalesced (bars 72ff, 89ff), amounted to high poetry – an illusion of distant bell tones, fine silver strikers resonating delicate porcelain. Profundity out of restraint, greatest impact out of least effort, was the message, aristocratically framed.

Klinton’s Prokofiev cycle was released on the Dutch Piano Classics label in March 2021. She thinks of the Eighth Sonata as “very dark, near static in places”. In its challenging course, not easy to hold together, she sees “a lot from Prokofiev’s earlier sonatas. Like Bach, who could freely exchange or transcribe material between works, Prokofiev was comfortable taking motifs from one context and adapting them to another. It didn’t present an aesthetic issue.” Contemplation, memories, bleakness, love, Beethovenian seizing-by-the-throat climaxes passed before us. The second movement, sognando (dreaming) – borrowing the Minuet (and D-flat key) from “Larina’s Ball” in a proposed 1937 film score for Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin – flowed with a particularly enhanced legato quality interleaving dance with song. Towards the end of the Finale the sun broke through the grey dampness of the morning, flooding the room with sudden light, the white-water tumult and cascading octaves of the moment thundering with enhanced brilliance and finality. Imperious.

Two encores. A Song by the Kyiv-based Ukrainian Levko Revutskyi (1889-1977, Silvestrov’s teacher). And Rachmaninov’s ruminative Élégie in E-flat minor, Opus 3/1 – a Klinton calling card that never fails in its effect.