18 May 2017, MTG Century Theatre
Ravel: Sonatine; Faure: Nocturne No 6 Op 63; Franck: Prelude, Choral and Fugue M. 21; Debussy: L’Isle Joyeuse; Faure: Nocturne No 4, Op 36; Dutilleux: Piano Sonata.
With a wholly French bill of fare, a gastronomic metaphor was difficult to resist. Lovers of French – particularly piano – music turned up with hearty appetites and high expectations to hear Stott, who has made that musical genre her speciality. And every wish would have been fulfilled, and more.
The recital was a triumphant finale to Stott’s three-week tour of New Zealand, in which she has travelled and also performed with the New Zealand String Quartet.
For the evening’s aperitif, Ravel’s famous Sonatine was an almost obligatory inclusion. It is an elegant little objet d’art, and, largely confined to the piano’s three middle octaves it gave just a tantalising taste of Stott’s prowess.
With our senses having been only lightly touched, the entrée of Faure’s No 6 ensured that delighted anticipation was sustained. Daringly emotional for its time, the work is considered Faure’s greatest nocturne. From its passionate beginnings to its stormy climax and contemplative resolution, Stott played with superb control and power, clearly relishing the music’s dramatic and luminous qualities.
That muscular domination of the formidable Steinway continued in the third course, with Franck’s Bachian homage (in form, anyway) — a fascinating, intensely personal work in which Stott imbued the piano with the breadth and soaring majesty of a French organ.
That, in itself might have made the evening, but for a hunger-pang inducing interval, and a necessary return to the banquet, with Debussy’s “L’Isle Joyeuse”, his justly celebrated, dazzlingly atmospheric tone painting.
Faure’s tenderly lyrical Nocturne No 4, dismissed by his contemporary, pianist Alfred Cortot, as “rather too satisfied with its languor”, has a deep, underlying expressive force, an unquiet core that belies the epithet “happy” nocturne. Stott played with both delicate tenderness and intense, dramatic passion, exploring every dynamic nuance.
But for sheer energy, le plat principal, le piece de resistance, and an exciting revelation for some that evening, was when the lid was raised on the Henri Dutilleux 1948 piano sonata.
The sonata has three movements, with the last presented as a set of four variations based on a chorale theme. Liberated from the constraints of charm, elegance and refinement that had been quintessential elements of French music, it is more symphonic than pianistic and has become a cornerstone of 20th century piano repertoire.
With its formidable density, multi-layered textures, overt dissonances and rhythmic complexity the “non-French” sonata served as a delectable counterweight for what had gone before.
Stott was simply stunning, playing with unmannered passion and conviction. The rich colours and textures she drew from the music, and with such sustained, breathtaking energy had this reviewer spellbound. And, unhappily, for obsessive hi-fi buffs for whom no pocket can ever be deep enough in their quest to recreate living sound, a recording just cannot hope to recapture the thrill of witnessing Stott’s masterly and versatile performance.
In a calculated departure from the Gallic set menu was the encore, Stephen Hough’s “Londonderry Air”. It was fresh, sparkling and affectionate arrangement shorn of all sentimentality – a palate-pleasing slice of Irish blue rather than reblochon to send us bundled and replete into the night.