Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Wigmore Hall, London

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Mishka Rushdie Momen is a pianist who lives out stories and dreams. In this recital – no audience, darkened room, her Wigmore Hall solo debut – she wandered forests and paths familiar in their different ways yet seen through changing here-now there-gone veils of aurora borealis coloration. Her demeanour is lissom. Her hands are beautiful, fingers curled above the keyboard like ivoried pergola trellises. Sound is her reference. Rich and mellow, headily resonant, intricately balanced. When called for, her upper register sparks like lightning, her basses toll. But there’s never crudeness, she’s a vocaliser not a percussor. Tonal quality defines her artistry – and if every now and again the effects she needs call for unconventional fingerings, so be it.

Rameau to open – ‘Les tendres plaintes’ – and Ravel to close – ‘Oiseaux tristes’ and ‘Alborada del gracioso’ from Miroirs – presented her credentials as painter and poet. Clarity and simplicity on the one hand, exotic fantasy and mood drama on the other. Murmured baroque ornament. Fabulous tenor declamation, deliriously shattering crystals, sabre-cut rhythms in Alborada. Magical calls haunted Schumann’s ‘Vogel als Prophet’ (Waldszenen), framed with an instinctive regard for design, climax, pacing and cadence. It came to rest when it had to, neither too early nor too late. An aquarelle materialising out of arboured sunlight, dusking into silence.

The three ‘big’ works on the programme were Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, Chopin’s Second Ballade, and Janáček’s In the Mists. With its tempo variations and transient echoes of drill practice étude, as well as the terseness of each variation, the Mendelssohn is never the easiest of sets to bring off cohesively. Momen proposed an essentially pondered construct, finding room within the virtuoso foreground and cobweb staccatos for fireside reflection and cantabile line, a glimmer of song-without-words. Following custom, the ‘tempo di tema’ 12th variation was notches faster than the theme itself but felt right, likewise the breathed pause into the Adagio 14th. In the Mists, music defying definitives, offered Momen multi-dimensional moods and anxieties, tints and intensities. She delivered a diary of pain and trouble, fleetingly remembered beatitude and chasms of dark, deathly despair, the non-verbalised admission of a man’s anguished mental state. With Chopin’s Second Ballade came other unspoken tales: F-major/A-minor theatre, pastorale and tempest, fairies to furies. Unfolded with near-divine purity, its Carpathian peaks ascended regally, the music went its way, definition at a premium, the old tunes and hand shapes flying, tremulous sub-voicings shining the occasionally unexpected lantern.

Dedicated to the victims of India’s current covid doom, Schubert’s Ungarische Melodie encore was of an order to melt stone hearts, each swing to the major more fragile and tear-laden than the last.