Review: Tamara Stefanovich – Piano, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 15

Tamara Stefanovic performs at the Aldeburgh Festival Photo: Beki Smith

Tamara Stefanovic performs at the Aldeburgh Festival Photo: Beki Smith - Credit: Archant

The Yugoslavia-born pianist has a growing reputation for her performances of some of the tougher piano music of the last century. This quite challenging recital began with Bach and moved through Bartok, Copland and Messiaen to the first sonata by Charles Ives.

Bach’s Aria varita alla maniera italiana is a highly ornamented piece and the pianist was dextrous and secure in the trills and the more florid passages. There was plenty of crisp articulation and elemental energy in Bartok’s Improvisations on Eight Hungarian Peasant Songs along with sudden moments of stark stillness and tension.

Copland’s Piano Variations is a tallish order for both performer and listener. A terse, flinty theme is subjected to a number of tightly controlled variations and some expansive and virtuosic passages. The work packs a lot into twelve minutes and it is difficult to feel that one has grasped everything at a single hearing but Stefanovitch held it all together with a controlled intensity.

Messiaen’s music is not for everyone but at its best it has ecstatic joy that can be quite overwhelming. This is partly a result of his ability to see colours when he heard music and many of his piano compositions include bursts of light and glassy chords, along with his famous and amazingly truthful recreation of birdsong. The Canteyodjaya of 1949 also incorporates Hindu rhythms and the early passages have a ceremonial flavour before opening out into the more extrovert and recognisable Messiaen towards the end. Once again the pianism was of the highest order and entirely at the service of the music.

Although Ives had formal training in music and was a diligent pupil he eventually went his own way and produced some of the most interesting and idiosyncratic works of his time; he might still be regarded as the ultimate ‘one-off’ composer. As in so many of his larger compositions, any tune or cultural fragment that caught his ear went into the compositional melting pot. It is an endlessly fascinating work and Stefanovitch’s dexterity and engagement with the music held us enthralled to the end. A fascinating and enjoyable concert.

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Gareth Jones

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