George Todica

Concert date: 15 September 2023
Reviewed by: JRC

George Todica after his recital at the Courtenay Centre, with Jon and Susan Ayres representing The John Turpin Bequest sponsorship

Brave man George Todica opened his concert with a relatively unknown piece: ‘Sonata’ in A major K 208, by Scarlatti. It was with this short and lyrical offering that George won our hearts and touched our soul. He gave it just a tad of romanticism that would have been impossible on a harpsichord [for which Scarlatti had mostly been composing].

George introduced sections of his programme, and had pointed out that he was playing two ‘Sonatas’: Scarlatti’s almost too short and simple to merit the term; Mozart’s Sonata No 8 in A minor K 310 is more typical. This is one of only two Mozart Sonatas in a minor key and, composed around the time of his mother’s death, it gives vent to his very mixed emotions of grief. And so in the Allegro we had a bold directness of anger that one does not usually associate with Mozart, whereas the Andante was a mood-swing to pensive: answering echoes, repeated notes with differing shades. A change of schizoid proportions! Amazingly, Mozart’s melodies, nuances and phrasing persisted even in George’s frenzied Presto. Mozart would have identified with this performance, even if it came as a shock to us.

Suite No 2 for Piano, ‘Des Cloches Sonores’ [Ringing Bells], by George’s fellow compatriot Romanian, Enescu, was entered for a competition in Paris in 1903 – and won. Hardly surprising, since this four-sectioned work provides drama and contrasts galore, with obvious peals of bells in the Toccata and the fun and extravagantly dramatic Bourree finale. The more subdued Sarabande also built to peals, but it was interesting to hear Todica say that it is the stately brooding Pavane, with its occasional sparkles, which was the most special movement for him.

We then had another Pavane, probably the most famous and well-known of all: Ravel’s. What a huge relief it was that George’s performance did not drench us with affected sentimentality. His tempo made the Pavane-dance believable in a restrained, stately way, as befitting a princess. In moments of poignancy, we regret that we cannot see this little Spanish Court princess from a bygone era. A definitive performance beyond what one had dared to hope.

Like Ravel, Rachmaninov was influenced by themes from earlier styles, and his Variations on a theme of Corelli Op 42 is in fact using the same ancient theme that Corelli had used. Its first presentation is starkly simple, but soon variations become increasingly complex. It was fun being swept along the journey of 20 variations with bouts of virtuosic splendour. However, the coda jolted us back to the somewhat desolate starkness of the original theme. In 1931, Rachmaninov wrote that he wasn’t a technically proficient enough pianist to play these variations; perhaps the coda signifies his regrets.

Chopin’s Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante Op 22 was a splendid choice to end our programme. George’s Andante had melody lines singing out from softly delicate accompaniment. Chopin’s motifs abounded, and the use of rubato was excellently judged. Then the fan-fare! It heralded the Grande Polonaise of joy, exuberance and stunning virtuosity.

Our enthusiasm called for an encore. We were treated to Rachmaninov’s Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G-sharp minor: just the choice for an extraordinary concert.

George Todica had given us a very well-thought-out programme, then brought it radiantly to life. His combination of technical virtuosity and ‘living the music’ imbibed the audience with awe and wonder. Another artist one hopes will return to Newton Abbot.

Sponsored by The John Turpin Bequest.

NADSA Concert, Friday 15th September 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.