Review: Dominic Degavino's brilliant programme of German piano music at St Peter's ChurchDominic Degavino was the latest performer in this series of recitals by Brilliant Young International Musicians at St Peter’s Church - a programme of recitals now in its seventh year.
Dominic grew up in Milton Keynes. He won a place at prestigious Chetham’s School, Manchester, and then studied at the Royal Northern School of Music - also in Manchester. He is currently studying with Charles Owen at the Guildhall School of Music in London.
As well as developing his career as a soloist, Dominic is both an active accompanist and an enthusiastic chamber music pianist.
Dominic’s programme for the evening (January 24) was a range of very carefully selected German music. The first half focused on music from the Age of Enlightenment - Bach and Haydn. The second half was from the a later period of German creativity - Robert Schumann and, from the very end of the Romantic period, Alban Berg’s only Piano Sonata, Opus 1.
The concert opened with JS Bach’s English Suite No 3 in G minor, written about 1715. It is one of a set of six suites possibly written for an unknown but discriminating English nobleman. The popular G mInor suite opens with a tremendous prelude, relentless and dignified, illustrating Bach’s mastery of counterpoint.
This is followed by the standard set of dances, familiar to eighteenth century ears. First comes the calm allemande, followed by a courante - a rapidly moving torrent of water. This makes way for a stately sarabande expressive and poignant, played almost like a recitative.
Then comes a jaunty gavotte, interrupted with a musette, the only movement in a major key, cheerful and rustic in style. The final movement is a gigue, rollicking and breathless.
What a treat to hear these played with obvious empathy. With commendable technical skill, Dominic brought out the contrasting mood of each of these movements. There was lightness of touch, careful shading and elegance of phrasing as well as a memorable ferocity in the gigue. The audience was delighted.
This was followed by Joseph Haydn’s Sonata in E minor - an early work, dating from 1770. The first movement is built around a series of staccato arpeggios played largely in the left hand, while the second movement is more lyrical, with a highly ornamented theme in the right hand, played above a series of chords in the left hand.
The final movement comes like a burst of sunshine - a glorious dashing rondo in which the theme appears repeatedly, but in both the minor and major keys before coming to a very abrupt end. Dominic played with faultless dexterity especially in the staccato sections. He very successfully brought out the unrestrained joy and light-heartedness - which characterises the piece.
The second half opened with the Berg’s Piano Sonata No 1 . This was written in 1908, only a year after Berg began studying composition in Vienna with Arnold Schoenberg and must be one of the most accomplished ‘first published works’ ever heard.
It is one continuous movement (Berg failed to find inspiration for any further movements). There are moments of grand Romantic gesture, worthy of Schumann, but tempered with a new musical language, which hints at the atonality associated with Schoenberg and the emerging Viennese school.
At a first hearing, the work can seem impenetrable, but this was an intelligent performance, which highlighted the various note clusters or motifs that are frequently repeated, almost contrapuntally. Dominic highlighted the rich variety of tempi and dynamics which swirl thorough the piece before reaching a gentle and peaceful conclusion.
Dominic concluded his recital with one of the greatest piano works from the German Romantic period Robert Schumann’s Kreisleriana written in the 1830’s. Kapellmeister Kreisler is a fictitious character in a work by ETA Hoffman, the early nineteemth century German author of fantasy and ‘Gothick’ horror stories and inspiration for Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman later in the century.
Kreisler (seemingly like Hoffman himself)) was an eccentric, wild and solitary figure - the outsider who believes himself to be a misunderstood genius. Unstable perhaps, or, in modern terms manic depressive?
There are seven movements which explore the huge range of emotions that such a person expresses. Some are slow and serious, others quixotic, like fluttering butterflies while others notably the last are filled with pure joy. It is a very ambitious work and technically very demanding. Dominic played with consummate skill, highlighting the huge mood swings from one piece to another. The audience was riveted.
It was a very fine evening's music. By a brief introduction to each half, Dominic engaged successfully with the audience. While his radiant smile will be remembered with affection. May his career prosper!
The next recital in this series will be given by the Tee Trio at St Peter's Church on Sunday, 24 February 2019 at 7.30pm.