Dejan Lazić (piano) plays a concert of Haydn, Shostakovich, Schumann and his own Istrian Dances
Wigmore Hall, London; Monday, 18 January 2016
written by Ben Hogwood
Audio (open in a new window)
Available until 17 February
What’s the music?
Haydn – Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob.XVI:52 (1794) (20 minutes)
Shostakovich – 3 Fantastic Dances Op.5 (1922) (4 minutes)
Schumann – Waldszenen Op.82 (1849) (23 minutes)
Lazić – 3 Istrian Dances Op.15a (2008) (4 minutes)
If you cannot hear the broadcast then this attached playlist covers almost all of the repertoire. Dejan Lazić has already recorded the Haydn and Schumann, while the Shostakovich is included in a recording by Vladimir Ashkenazy:
About the music
Haydn’s late Piano Sonata in E flat (given no.52 in the catalogue by the compiler Hoboken) is one of his grandest statements for the keyboard, an imposing piece that is often regarded as having a scope well beyond the solo instrument. It has Haydn’s characteristic wit but also an impressive stature.
By complete contrast the young Shostakovich – just fourteen at the time of writing the 3 Fantastic Dances – was just striking out, and you can sense him champing at the bit in these pieces. All three last under five minutes but are great fun.
Schumann was a great writer of character pieces for the piano, and Waldszenen (Forest Scenes) is one of the finest examples of his ability to paint portraits in relatively short periods of time. A group of nine pieces, these are often played with very little in the way of a break between them, and are often understated but without losing any intensity. Originally they were headed by poetic quotations, but the shadowy set of pieces was instead published without these and were given headings instead.
Finally Lazić himself gets in on the act, his 3 Istrian Dances rather similar to the solo piano works of Bartók in their reworking of national themes. Istria is a peninsula in the Adriatic Sea, shared by Croatia, Italy and Slovenia.
Arcana was not present at the Wigmore Hall on this occasion, so this appraisal was done via the BBC iPlayer. Even from that it is quite clear not just what an accomplished pianist Lazić is, but that he has a strong sense of national identity in his compositions. In the lively Istrian Dances this takes him close to the sound world of Bartók, and this energetic performance proved an invigorating final number in the concert.
Lazić clearly has affection for the works of Haydn, and although some of his phrasing was quite mannered – nothing wrong with that, but not necessarily to everyone’s taste! – his technical control was superb, and some of the rapid passagework Haydn assigns to the right hand was thrown off with aplomb. Meanwhile the slow movement of the E flat sonata had a real depth of feeling.
His Schumann was excellent, very strongly characterised and recognising the intimacy found in a lot of these short pieces, the comfort of the forest sometimes spilling over into claustrophobia. Meanwhile the impudent Shostakovich was pure fun, the sound of a young composer flexing his muscles.
What should I listen out for?
01:54 – a grand theme to start, anticipating Beethoven in its big scale. This is one of Haydn’s most substantial sonata themes. After an elaborate development, the first half of the movement is repeated from 4:06. Then from 6:22 Haydn takes the two main themes for a walk, running through some unexpectedly far-off keys until reaching home at 8:08.
10:12 – the slow movement starts in E major, the last key you would expect Haydn to use. But then this is Haydn, who likes to throw in a surprise or two to what ought to be conventional works! It is a thoughtful, intimate theme, too, one of his more profound slow movements for piano. Then at 13:09 Haydn moves the music into the minor key, and an unpredictable section based on the main tune, but before long we return to the opening material (14:16)
16:14 – a cheeky, stop-start last movement with repeated notes in the main tune. They sound like an over eager woodpecker or something similar! With typical wit Haydn develops these, making great use of silence in between some of his phrases and introducing some really difficult runs in the right hand. Again Haydn is adventurous in the rapid development section (from 18:46) until the witty theme makes a comeback (20:13)
23:42 March – Allegretto – a thoughtful but quite carefree notion to this piece, and to the right hand especially, which becomes quite frivolous.
25:08 Waltz – Andantino – a relatively gentle start is misleading, as this piece turns out to be reckless and quite impetuous at times, making the listener jump!
26:32 – Polka – Allegretto – Shostakovich shows an early mastery of the piano, and despite pronounced influences from Chopin and Scriabin there is plenty of individuality to his style here too. Cheeky but meaningful.
27:39 – Eintritt (Entry) – an endearing privacy immediately descends on Schumann’s music, beautifully written. The harmonies are open, and the melodies subtly restless, wandering for a while.
29:45 – Jäger auf der Lauer (Hunters on the lookout) – a furtive piece, hiding in the shadows initially, then becoming a lot bolder.
31:07 – Einsame Blumen (Lonely Flowers) – quite sparse, bring a melody and relatively economical accompaniment. It is a beautiful melody though, and has a strong yearning.
33:42 – Verrufene Stelle (Haunted Place) – the quietness of the piano is laced with tension, the scene far from comfortable. The music gets more animated but quickly retreats into its shell again, scarred by what it might have seen. There is a happier ending, mind, as the music moves to a major key and peace of mind.
37:51 – Freundliche Landschaft (Friendly Landscape) – a quickfire piece, happy go-lucky in these hands, relieved after the haunting has passed.
38:55 – Herberge (Wayside Inn) – the welcoming inn is a lively place in Schumann’s description, with a warm welcome, carrying on from the happy place above.
40:54 – Vogel als Prophet (Bird as Prophet) – a fascinating, mysterious piece that leaves a mark through its distinctive melodic profile. Its foreboding message hangs on the air.
43:58 – Jagdlied (Hunting Song) – an open air call to arms. Schumann wrote a lot of hunting songs for voice and piano and piano alone, but this one is reminiscent of Beethoven in its profile and the choice of E-flat major.
46:24 – Abschied (Farewell) – initially confident but immediately thoughtful, and the rest of the piece is relatively sombre and quietly moving.
51:52 – an arresting call to arms in the first dance, with the notes in the right hand close together, creating crunchy dissonances.
The second dance is underway at 52:40 and is equally spiky, with quickfire shots from the right hand and powerful double notes in the left. At 53:39 a languid dance makes itself known and turns in on itself softly.
The third dance gets underway at 54:39 with highly distinctive rhythms, detached and tumbling down the keyboard at times before finishing suddenly at 55:24.
56:43 – the encore is the finale of one of Haydn’s best-loved Piano Sonatas, in C major (published as HXVI:50). You can sense the composer thumbing his nose at the audience in his witty asides and false approaches to the ending, which finally arrives at 58:53.
Having mentioned Bartók earlier it would be churlish not to include something of his for solo piano, so attached to the bottom of the concert playlist you will find the 3 Rondos, played by Zoltan Kocsis. Alternatively you could try a whole set of Mazurkas by the Polish composer Karel Szymanowski, on the album below: