CIMF review / Woodward performs something exceptional

Music / CIMF Concert 3: Roger Woodward. At the Fitters Workshop, April 28. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD

Pianist Roger Woodward… What was astonishing is that Woodward played the full concert entirely from memory. Photo by PETER HISLOP

THIS was the first of two recitals by Roger Woodward at the Canberra International Music Festival, with the repertoire for both a mix of Claude Debussy and Frederic Chopin.

The Fitters Workshop was bathed in late-afternoon sunlight as Woodward walked quietly up the centre aisle, sat at the piano and launched into the first of three groups of “sound pictures”, written between 1903 and 1907. Debussy called them Prints (Estampes) or Images and it takes little imagination to sense the visuals within the music.

Woodward played them in chronological order starting with Estampes L100, which began with a gentle, almost soporific work, “Pagodas”, followed by a more energetic “Evening in Grenada”, evoking a distinct but subtle sense of Spanishness and finished with “Gardens Under Rain”, where one could hear the water falling on the plants. The two later suites, “Images Book 1” and “Book 2” were equally as intriguing, becoming more complex and abstract as the composer developed the ideas.

Chopin’s 12 Etudes op.10 were written when the composer was in his early 20s and published shortly after his arrival in Paris in 1833. These are short works, only a couple of minutes apiece. Each focuses on some element of piano technique and follow in a harmonic sequence of major and minor keys. This was a different flavour of music from the impressionistic Debussy of the first half but equally as impressive.

What was astonishing is that Woodward played the full concert entirely from memory. The Debussy was around 50 minutes of increasingly complicated music drawing everything possible from the piano, followed by another half an hour of the Chopin.

Woodward looked exhausted as he walked off, but graciously returned for two short encores. Sometimes music reviewers have the privilege of hearing something quite exceptional. This was one of those occasions.

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