Kathryn Stott (piano) performs piano music by Fauré, Franck, Ravel and Graham Fitkin
Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 14 September 2015
Listening link (open in a new window):
on the iPlayer until 20 October
In case you cannot hear the broadcast, here is a Spotify playlist of the music in this concert – most of which Kathryn Stott has recorded.
What’s the music?
Fauré: Nocturne no.4 (1884) (8 minutes)
Franck: Prélude, Chorale et Fugue (1884) (20 minutes)
Ravel: Sonatine (1905) (12 minutes)
Fitkin: Relent (1998) (10 minutes)
What about the music?
Fauré wrote a good deal of extremely attractive piano music, ranging from dreamy Barcarolles and Impromptus to the Nocturnes, which tend to be more moody. Kathryn Stott’s choice for this concert, the fourth of thirteen such works Fauré completed, is one of the lighter coloured examples.
César Franck, treated as French although he was born in Liège, which is now Belgium, wrote a lot of organ music – but is not often regarded as a composer of piano music. This is a shame, because in the Prélude, chorale et Fugue he shows off a distinctive style and an adventurous harmonic approach, while also acknowledging a debt to J.S. Bach in the form and construction of the piece. This reaches its apex in the central chorale, a kind of hymn tune that is first heard in a solemn intonation but which then rings out in glorious technicolour.
Ravel completes the triptych of French piano works, his Sonatine a model of economy and precision – but also an intimate piece of three movements that is quite beautifully written for the piano. The word Sonatine refers to the short length of the piece rather than anything else that might be modest – for this is one of Ravel’s finest piano works.
Kathryn Stott ends her recital with Graham Fitkin’s Relent, completed in 1998 and written for Stott herself. On the composer’s website, Fitkin writes of how “This piece is about time. It is about my perception of time, its various manifestations and ultimate inevitability. I think about the way I use my time, how much I need and just how long it feels like. I think about continuous time, circular time and our society’s preoccupation with marking the passage of time. And then I think about the relentless addition of time and how for me some day it will just stop.”
Initially this concert was to be given by Tine Thing Helseth, with Kathryn Stott in support at the piano, but the Norwegian trumpeter sadly had to withdraw through illness.
In her place Stott constructed a fine recital, moving naturally from the nocturnal thoughts of Fauré through a passionate performance of the Franck, beautifully played and extremely well voiced so that the themes could be clearly heard.
Stott is a modest performer – by which I mean she has a gracious air when performing – and that suited her performance of the Ravel and Fauré especially. However when she needs the power it is easily found, and the performance of Fitkin’s Relent brought out the kinetic energy of the piece perfectly.
What should I listen out for?
1:22 – a relatively gentle beginning to the piece, which is deceptively simple in its execution, harking back a little to Chopin. The theme comes back at 2’29, this time in ‘octaves’ – that is, the tune is doubled by another finger in the right hand playing an octave higher on the keyboard.
The mood then darkens as we head into the minor key. As Stott herself was quoted in Fiona Talkington’s introduction on Radio 3, Fauré’s “harmonic language is fascinating, and I’m never bored by it”. Greater turbulence can be felt in the music – but an inner radiance returns with the theme at 6:41. The piece finishes in serene mood at 8’53”.
10:51 – the Prélude suggests a relatively relaxed approach and is almost improvisatory at first, before we hear the main theme in octaves. Despite being based on an older form this to me is a forward looking piece, using some spicy harmony and strong romantic leanings.
16:18 – the Chorale section begins (chorale essentially another word for hymn), and we first here the Chorale itself in subdued form at 17:21. At 18:37 we hear it in another key, the mood of contemplation starting to give way to more passionate thoughts – and when we hear it once more at 20:20, the effect is like a peal of bells.
21:30 – the fugue section begins, though the fugue itself doesn’t start until 22:56, initially retreating into quiet thoughts but then gathering momentum. Once again it softens though, the choral theme peeping through the rippling piano textures at 27:58. At 30:06 the final peal of bells rings out, ending with an emphatic double ‘B’ from the left hand.
32:24 – this piece is notable for its clean lines and immaculate structure but also for the intimate atmosphere that Ravel immediately conjures within seconds of this first movement beginning. It has a slightly melancholic feel but is essentially positive. Some of the quieter music is beautiful and dreamy, especially at the end.
37:05 – Ravel leads more or less straight into the second movement, a Minuet (a dance in triple time). This has a persuasive lilt, as well as the same feel of intimacy carried over from the first movement.
40:07 – the third movement, a much more forthright piece of music marked Animé (Animated).The textures of the piano here suggest rippling water. The piece moves to a convincing finish at 43:54, Ravel’s structure nigh-on perfect.
44:57 – immediately Fitkin’s use of the piano suggests mechanical movements. The writing is incredibly bold, from the big, beefy sound of the lower register of the piano – often dealt out in octaves – to the syncopated lines from the right hand. These suggest a strong jazz influence, but possibly even the sound of a gamelan.
As the piece progresses so its mechanical nature continues, with a terrific amount of energy generated in its ten minute duration.
55:57 – Chopin – Prelude for piano in E minor (3 minutes) – an encore of suitable stillness to follow the Fitkin, Chopin’s E minor prelude is one of his most popular, and one of his most sorrowful too.
There are plenty of options available for further listening after this varied concert. Those enjoying the Ravel would be urged to seek out more of the composer’s piano music, in particular Gaspard de la nuit. The Franck may have its roots in the past a bit more but has some pretty exotic harmonies – and anyone enjoying it might want to head for Debussy’s suite Pour Le Piano, another look back to the past with an especially beautiful Sarabande at its heart.
Meanwhile for lovers of the Fauré the composer’s piano music has a particular late night beauty, as this selection of Barcarolles and Impromptus suggests. All are tagged onto the end of the original playlist here: