This was the second visit in three years from Danny Driver, a pianist whose profound musicality shines through everything he plays. Tonight’s first half comprised two Bach Suites (the first Partita and the 5th French Suite), and the dark and complex Prelude and Fugue in F sharp minor from the ‘48’. Each movement of the suites was characterised with elegant gestures, piquant and seemingly impromptu ornaments (especially in the repeats). His subtle rubato was a welcome change to the mechanical Bach we still sometimes hear. The Fugue, although in only three parts, illustrates Bach’s genius in combining formidable virtuosity of composition with deep expressivity. The three fugue subjects, each its own right thoughtfully expressive, are presented successively before being intricately combined. Driver held it all together with refined flexibility of rhythm and beautiful lyricism.
The second half comprised three works from the early 20th century, starting with Rachmaninov’s Étude Tableau in A minor from Op. 39. The contemplative ‘2-against-3’ rhythms nicely reflected those in Bach’s F sharp minor prelude, but the sudden eruption of cascading figuration in the central section opened the doors, for the first time in this programme, to the extravagant world of Romantic virtuosity. This was followed by all six movements of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, suitably played with refined, neoclassical understatement, but feeling rather weak after Rachmaninov’s passionate gestures – perhaps it should have started the second half. It was interesting to hear Medtner’s rarely played Ninth Sonata, a single-movement piece beginning innocently enough but gradually building to a passionate climax. But this too stood uncomfortably against the Rachmaninov, for its musical ideas lack the strength, individuality and integrity of Rachmaninov’s, so that the passion seemed contrived. Driver’s well-paced performance was nonetheless persuasive, and there was much to enjoy.
Professor Peter Johnson
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire