“What a stunning way to start the season” was an overheard comment from the audience. Indeed, Ron Abramski, probably more famous in the USA and Germany than in the UK, rather took us by surprise.
From his understated demeanour there emerged a character that drew the audience into his well constructed programme. At superficial face value the programme was populist romantic, with some Hindemith, presumably for our education in modernism. As the evening progressed I realised there was more of novelty and interest than I had imagined.
Brahms had been championed by Schumann; and Brahms was obsessed with Schumann's wife Clara. Brahms' four Ballades were written soon after Schumann's mental collapse and suicide attempt. The gravitas of this situation was transmitted to us via Ron's playing of the first Ballade, which follows the dramatic narrative of the Scottish poem 'Edward'. We were taken to a bleak dark despair. The second Ballade completely changed our mood with a soft light touch that at times was rhythmic and lively. By the end of the fourth Brahms Ballade we were sure we could put our faith in Ron Abramski and follow wherever he led.
Part of the magic of the evening was the rapport Ron established with the audience. He told us that he wanted to play the Hindemith and, recognising that many of us would find it 'difficult', he played the fugue theme and said that when we heard that, there was not long to go! This respect for his audience drew a rapt attention for Hindemith's Piano Sonata No 3: indeed when the fugue heralded the fourth movement I felt regret that this intricate virtuoso work was nearing its grand finale.
Chopin's third, and last, piano Sonata was our treat after the interval. Firm chords were followed by beautiful lyrical melodic lines exquisitely executed by touch, micro and macro phrasing and appropriate rubato. So good to be able to abandon oneself to the visceral effect of Chopin's music, and not be irritated by excessive romanticism that too often 'gilds the lily'. Good too that visually we were not cursed with affected grimacing, though during the scherzo I did notice a few craning necks of the audience to observe the incredible speed of his fingers. The largo was contemplative and sometimes serene; a total change of mood: and then the presto fair took ones breath away. It was difficult to see how Ron could follow that.
Liszt's transcription of Wagner's Tannhauser Overture is another piece that Ron wanted to perform. It is technically very demanding, and we were informed that even the extremely accomplished pianist Liszt himself had, on one occasion, faltered. So in an atmosphere of challenge, we sat mesmerised as familiar themes developed and surged around us. It often seemed as though this was written for three hands, and people strained to see how only two hands coped. A sense of awe and wonder sustained us through to the dramatic end. Whether the transcription from orchestra to piano really works is a moot point; but undoubtedly it was huge fun!
It was no surprise that Ron was called back for an encore. He gave us Schubert’s Impromptu in G flat major. This was a masterpiece of programming and performance; our savage hearts were calmed by beautiful serenity. I look forward to hearing Ron Abramski again.