Nicolas Hodges – Piano
27 August 2014
For those in the audience who had rushed to make it into the city for a mid-week recital the Six Bagatelles (Op. 126) by Beethoven were a perfect way to open this performance. This set of miniatures provided contrasts of mood within each perfectly formed piece. Hodges immediately presented himself as a most sensitive musician who has exception technical control. The lyrical lines sang out thoughtfully in the clear acoustic of the Elisabeth Murdoch Hall, and the faster movements hinted at the attention grabbing technique that was to be showcased later in the program.
The Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor (Op. 111), another late work by Beethoven, followed. It was fascinating to see the reaction of some audience members in the introduction of the majestic opening movement; the couple seated in front of me nodded to each other with tacit excitement. In many ways this performance was just what we expect of a virtuosic concert pianist. Drama, power and passion were plentiful. At times it seemed the Steinway was being pushed to its limits. It’s somewhat unusual to end a piano sonata with just a second movement. This one was subtitled (in translation) Little aria: Slowly very simply and singingly and is based on a 16 bar theme. Beethoven then progresses this beautiful and simple tune through a number of variations. The middle sections were filled with intensity and the final chord held the audience mesmerised.
The second half of the program consisted of the 12 Etudes by Claude Debussy. Traditionally an etude or study is a piece written to improve some aspect of a musician’s technique rather than being a concert piece. In this set of etudes Debussy gives each a different focus but raises the form so that each is a true work of art. Hodges brought out the luscious sonorities and also the musical wit in the compositions. The first study ‘For the Five Fingers, after Mr. Czerny’ began with a simple 5 note scale pattern as could be played by any number of beginning pianists. As this is progressively interrupted by ‘wrong’ notes the study transforms into a virtuosic demonstration of musical invention. Other etudes were based on intervals such as ‘for fourths’ and ‘for octaves’ or other aspects such as ‘repeated notes’. The two books of etudes are incredibly contrasting but also provided for an extremely musically satisfying second half.
One of the highlights of this recital was Nicolas Hodges succinct and interesting spoken introductions to each piece. A confident and engaging public speaker he was able to give the audience something to listen out for. It really did engage the audience with a more meaningful and thoroughly enjoyable concert experience.