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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Mozart and Prokofiev: Lise de la Salle (piano) Wigmore Hall, London. 3.6.2007 (ED)


The transition from child prodigy to prodigiously talented mature artist eludes many, but on evidence of this recital Lise de la Salle has made the journey with assurance. For once it seems that the music world hype surrounding artists could and should be believed.

Her Sunday morning Wigmore Hall debut was a strictly standing room only affair. The mix of Mozart and Prokofiev – carefully mirroring the contents of her latest recording – no doubt attracted many, including a smattering of prominent pianists to be seen in the audience.

Mozart’s A minor Rondo, K. 511, revealed de la Salle’s encouragement of a richly sonorous bass register against which the right hand registered its part with often mercurial fluidity. Often one hears pianists described as poets of the keyboard: it is an appropriate description in this case as de la Salle took care to maintain the work’s seemingly simple structure throughout her playing.

A measure of surface simplicity is present in “Ah vous dirai-je, maman”, upon which Mozart created twelve widely differing variations. Lise de la Salle effectively juxtaposed this with playing of some sophistication to offer a largely stylish interpretation that took in aspects of helter-skelter childishness, poignant reflection, and other flights of fancy which culminated in an exuberant final flourish. Even though Lise de la Salle exhibits passion in her playing which is welcome to hear, there were moments at which this threatened to over-dominate proceedings. Thankfully she just about pulled back from the brink each time to maintain the integrity of her reading, which benefited from judiciously judged tempo changes across the variations as a whole.

Given her lively Mozart playing, there were high hopes for the remaining Prokofiev items: 7 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, op.75, and the D minor Toccata, op.11. Romeo and Juliet is a work I have only previously encountered in its orchestral version, wherein nuances of instrumental colouring, scale and textural juxtaposition play crucial roles. Such things ask a lot of any pianist if they are to be brought off convincingly on the wide but more intimate palette of a single instrument. As with the Mozart variations, insecurity of fingering more than attack crept in as a result of de la Salle’s heady abandon in meeting Prokofiev’s multifarious demands head-on.

The portrait of Juliet was a mixture of delicacy and airy space which allowed for a degree of reflection to emerge and beguiling mystery, which Prokofiev uses to indicate what might first have attracted Romeo’s attention. The Minuet was grandly imposing in its formality. During the joviality of the Masks, de la Salle relished the forthright textural juxtapositions in the writing. She compensated with feeling for the intended mood during moments when she sounded technically stretched. The Montagues and Capulets fought a terse encounter, fully of high drama and passions simmering barely beneath the surface. Mercutio was presented in a somewhat nervy portrait, although he was equally given to idle occupation, expressed through the music’s calmer passages. The Dance of the Girls with Lilies was a graceful affair, which contrasted most effectively with the lovers’ farewell. The delicacy of its opening passages led to an increasingly potent atmosphere, which aptly conveys the emotions inherent in Prokofiev’s writing. A telling aspect to de la Salle’s poetry was felt at the very end of the bitter-sweet conclusion: the final notes hung in the air fading softly to nothing, saying volumes about love and loss.

The Toccata in D minor is no less demanding and called for technical dexterity, precision of fingering and pedalling and a willingness to go with Prokofiev’s musical excesses. All of this Lise de la Salle proved more than willing to do, relishing the often disparate juxtapositions of register employed. The encore, a Rachmaninov prelude, gave her further material with similar requirements to enjoy, delighting the hugely appreciative audience in the process.


Evan Dickerson


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