Nicolas Hodges, Wigmore Hall, classical review: Pianist dazzles with Debussy

The encore was played with a hymn-like expressiveness

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The Independent Culture

The British pianist, composer, and professor Nicolas Hodges has carved out a niche as the ideal test-pilot for cutting-edge modernist works, and when Harrison Birtwistle wants to launch a new piano piece, there’s no question of anyone else being allowed to premiere it. ‘He’s becoming like my Peter Pears,’ said Sir Harry last year, as he entrusted Hodges with his dauntingly complex Gigue Machine.

The Wigmore celebrated Birtwistle’s 80th birthday by inviting Hodges to premiere a new Goldbergs-inspired Birtwistle piece entitled Variations from the Golden Mountain, and as Hodges observed when he learned it, its slow pulse presented a particular challenge.

For the listener too: after a bright opening toccata it embarked on a tentative series of modes and moods as different patterns and textures were essayed, before ending in a noisy carillon. The Gigue Machine, which followed, was a much better showcase both for Birtwistle’s percussive invention and for Hodges’ muscular virtuosity.  

But this recital followed a beautiful arc, beginning and ending with a coruscating performance of Debussy’s two books of Etudes, and climaxing with the most flamboyant account of the Mozart-Busoni Giga, bolero e variazione I have ever heard.

The encore was a late Beethoven Bagatelle, played with a hymn-like expressiveness.