Party fever gets audiences sweating

Arnaldo Cohen & Jean-Louis Steuerman | Wigmore hall, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Brazil is 500 years old, at least as we know it, and part of the Brazil 500 Festival is a loose collection of events in London this and next month, and even beyond, into next year. Nearly anything qualifies as a "festival" these days at the Wigmore Hall four recitals form part of it, the first given by the pianist Arnaldo Cohen last Thursday.

Brazil is 500 years old, at least as we know it, and part of the Brazil 500 Festival is a loose collection of events in London this and next month, and even beyond, into next year. Nearly anything qualifies as a "festival" these days at the Wigmore Hall four recitals form part of it, the first given by the pianist Arnaldo Cohen last Thursday.

The French composer, Darius Milhaud, who went to Brazil in 1918 and spent nearly two years there, regretted the reliance of some Brazilian composers - including the best-known, Villa-Lobos - on European forms. He preferred the music of Alberto Nepomuceno and Ernesto Nazareth for its more strongly localised character, though Cohen played an Aria by Nepomuceno which recalled Bach with a sentimental slant very much in the way of Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas brasileiras".

Nazareth's "Odeon" and "Apanhei-te cavaquinho" seemed much more in keeping with Brazilian music, especially as the second piece had a distinctive sonority exploiting the top of the keyboard in imitation of a small plucked instrument called a cavaquinho.

Oscar Fernandez's "3 Estudos em forma de sonatina" was striking, too: not neo-classical, as you might expect from the title, but with South American rhythms harnessed to elegant, witty and unpredictable forms. Cohen's crisp attack and cleanly focused sound seemed ideal here, though he was a bit too sentimental in the well-known Prelude from Villa-Lobos's "Bachianas brasileiras No 4".

Brazilian music apart, he played Haydn's F major Sonata, Hoboken 23, with an exquisite sense of style, colouring his touch and grading dynamics just so.

On Sunday, the indisposed Nelson Freire was replaced by Jean Louis Steuerman who, alas, didn't offer any Brazilian music apart from the same Prelude by Villa-Lobos as Cohen had played, plus the three pieces following it to make up the complete suite. True, Steuerman had short notice, but it seemed a sad reflection of the limitations of his repertoire.

Come to think of it, though, how many British pianists could offer something by a compatriot without much time to prepare for the concert?

The greater part of Steuerman's recital was made up of music by Bach: the famous violin Chaconne in the arrangement for piano, left hand, by Brahms, and the Partita No 4 in D.

For a pianist who specialises in Bach, Steuerman's playing was remarkably bland - almost casual. You expect corners cut to some extent in the Chaconne arrangement because one hand has to encompass awkward leaps, but Steuerman's rhythm was often flabby in the Partita; he did nothing to give the "Ouverture" brilliance, nor did he do very much to inject the following movements with character. Altogether a mild evening.

Comments