Tom Borrow (piano)
J.S. Bach Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (pub. 1735)
Franck Prélude, choral et fugue (1884)
Rachmaninoff Variations on a theme of Corelli Op.42 (1931)
Wigmore Hall, Monday 1 May 2023 1pm
by Ben Hogwood
This BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert featured the New Generation pianist Tom Borrow, making his debut at the Wigmore Hall with a very well-judged trio of works casting their eyes back to the past. The Israeli-born performer was notably comfortable in the environment, responding to the intimate atmosphere of the hall with compelling music-making.
Bach’s Italian Concerto was first, a work that is particularly successful on the piano. Borrow’s articulation in a crisp Allegro was very pleasing to the ear, his enjoyment of the counterpoint evident. The Andante was particularly beautiful, and completely unhurried – the pianist not afraid to give the right hand plenty of room to expand Bach’s melodies, the left hand hushed but responsive too. The bustling Presto had plenty of musical activity, the energetic profile maintained throughout but again the shapely melodic phrasing winning through.
Franck’s Prélude, choral et fugue is the best known of his works for solo piano. Its form looks back to the organ works of Bach, inserting a ‘chorale’ section in between the more conventional pair of ‘prelude’ and ‘fugue’. Here the Prélude began softly, Borrow’s light touch bringing delicacy to the decorative arpeggios around the theme, while also bringing the parallels with Brahms into focus. The choral started softy but grew in stature, moving from darkness to bright light, Borrow crossing hands to play the theme with apparent ease. The flowing discourse here was notable, maybe not as loud as some pianists but finding the heart of Franck’s expression nonetheless. The fugue was stately but also mysterious to begin with, the pianist bringing forward its chromatic profile, but then taking full command of the intense exchanges and achieving a most impressive performance in the process. The closing peal of bells was brilliantly played.
Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a theme of Corelli completed the trio of retrospective works, this one another remarkably concentrated piece offering plenty of opportunity for virtuosity and interpretative skill. This was again taken up by Borrow, once again setting a reverent atmosphere with the slow exposition of the theme. The lilting second variation in triple time was persuasively delivered, while a commanding fifth variation and sweeping seventh carried all before them. This only heightened the mysterious eighth and ninth variations, lost in thought.
The dynamic contrasts of the twelfth variation were very well observed, then the anxious syncopations of the thirteenth. The following Intermezzo had the requisite elements of fantasy, followed by a yearning chorale for Variation 14. Borrow’s technical command was impressive throughout, notably in the twists and turns of Variation 16 and the jagged edges of the eighteenth variation onwards. The clarity here was notable, in spite of the volume – and the thunderous finish was complemented by a radiant coda.
Borrow’s encore choice was well-suited – a flowing account of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G# minor Op.32/12, with notes that twinkled in the upper right hand at the end.
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