Viv McLean Piano

Concert date: 15 April 2016
Reviewed by: JRC

Viv McLean's piano recital brought Nadsa concerts' season to a close with a distinctive and vital rendering of some much loved favourites, and a rare chance to hear the Beethoven's Diabelli variations.

The programme, quite unusually arranged in reverse chronological order, opened with Debussy's Estampes. The first of these three pieces, 'Pagodes', was delivered with a strong security that extended to lively and minute phrasing. The Javanese tonal influence, which Debussy had heard at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889, was crystal clear. 'La soiree dans Grenade', the second of this trilogy, again took us away from our classical norms of rhythms and harmonies, but this time the influence was Moorish. Viv seemed to give each note almost individual accenting, a level of sensitivity that made for an authentic Spanish feel [even though Debussy had scarcely set foot in Spain, let alone Andalusia]. Kingsteignton is twinned with Orbec: and it was a storm in Debussy's garden in Orbec that 'Jardins sous la pluie', the final piece of Estampes, describes. Viv certainly gave us a torrent of fast and furious notes, but also some swirls of wind and almost pensive lulls. The Debussy section ended with what is probably the best know of his works, Clair de Lune. There was no need of limiting one's expectations since Viv produced a sumptuously sensitive performance, whilst steering clear of the depths of sentimentality.

Chopin's Nocturne in E flat Op 9/2 is also very well known, with a melodic line singing out from a soft accompaniment. It was here that I was surprised to hear Viv make this, almost hackneyed work, sound fresh and new by the use of rubatos in unfamiliar places. Brave man to make this his own.

He then played Ballade No 3 Op 47 which was followed by Nocturne in C sharp minor, a very subdued piece during which the delicacy of phrases, that knew their goal, held us close. The Chopin section ended with Ballade No 1 which took us back and forth from haunting melodies through stormy transitions to a dramatic virtuoso ending.

The one work that followed the interval was the Diabelli variations by Beethoven; 33 variations in all. The waltz, on which the variations are based, is very ordinary, however it is considered remarkable that Beethoven produced such a significant work from such a small base. We certainly experienced a considerable range of emotions and the audience was very appreciative of Viv's tour de force.

We were given an encore: a Chopin Mazurka. It was exceptionally beautifully played, and a masterpiece of programming. We went away with nerve endings tingling.