Monday, 1 August 2011

Alexandra Dariescu at Budleigh Festival

A Romanian piano sensation: Alexandra Dariescu

Is there no end to the extraordinary talent that can be seen and heard at the Budleigh Festival? These posts cover only a fraction of the gorgeous and brilliant music which has featured at this year's festival, and yet words cannot fully express the wonder of it all.

In yet another lunchtime concert - not free this time, but well worth the £8 admission price - if not more - pianist Alexandra Dariescu utterly amazed and transported a packed house with her inspired playing.

It's hard to forget the sumptuous performance by Lara Melda (formerly Lara Omeroglu - Young Musician of the Year 2010) at the Exeter Bach Society's 'Guest Performer' recital in the Exeter Cathedral Chapter House on Sunday 6 March this year. Alexandra does something similar! What passion. Many said that Alexandra 'made love' to the piano - and the audience too - she was clearly totally transported by emotion.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E flat took on a whole new meaning as Alexandra enthused over every note and grace note. There was so much emotion and so much fun, with every movement more exciting than the last. There was, sadly, the usual confusion with some thinking the opening allegro was the whole piece, but the scherzo soon set us right. The increasingly complex, stuttering rhythm gave way to sweet down-scales and crashing crescendos  - it's not the joke - it's the way you tell it! Then an incredibly smooth minuet, almost a hymn. Alexandra's rapturous expression mirrored the music perfectly. The final 'Presto con Fuoco' was a study in passion and intense concentration. Initially one might have described it as a 'lively dance', but soon the feeling was of a full speed gallop - and a lovely ride it was too!

Strangely Alexandra left the stage between each number - a little harmless theatre, and quite effective. She returned to introduce Liszt's Ballade No 2 in her delightful Roumanian accent, 'A battle of good and evil with the triumph of love!'. This rolling, rippling piece of music quickly became very ominous. An intense and beautiful soft section let us off for a while, but the scary deep bass rumble soon returned.

As expected a big explosive passage followed, but Alexandra took it back to softness and peace with accomplished skill. In the slow sections Alexandra seemed to talk to herself with her eyes closed - utterly engaged with the music. As she embarked on one down run she pulled out all the volume the piano could provide - before deftly gliding into the softest imaginable passage - so skilled!

(The Bosendorfer piano at Temple is extraordinarily dynamic, by the way. And it is a great pleasure to see it used to its fullest potential.)

Then Wagner - at a piano recital? Liszt's transcription of 'Liebestot' ('Death Love') from 'Tristan and Isolde' is perfect for Alexandra. After a portentious opening and pregnant pause she built waves of sound and emotion, soft and loving. Although passionate, she never let the sound grow to strong or coarse. Not only playing, but expressing the grief, Alexandra was Isolde, expressing her emotion through the keyboard. Tremolo evoked her sobs, grace notes her tears! The softest, softest waves of sound ended the lament.

A quick exit - and entrance - and Alexandra introduced two gorgeous Chopin pieces to finish. Andante Spianato (Walking on Level Ground) was a gentle, level roll, with occasional 'spikes'. Very relaxing after the passion of Wagner - a very good choice. Alexandra still talked to herself, but now her private conversation seemed a much happier one! The Polonaise (Polish Dance) to finish was initially loud and strident, but soon softeneed to a gentle dance. Alexandra's face was wreathed in smiles and she was now having a very happy conversation with herself!

Suddenly everything changed. Massive chords and an unexpected increase in vigour and complexity. Then, just as suddenly, Alexandra pushes back her hair and returns to the soft dance theme. The perfect choice for a finishing number, the Poloniase has a series of false endings before racing up and down the scale a couple of times before rippling to the true finish.

Now the exits and entrances made sense. We knew she would come back for an encore - a choice. More Chopin or something modern by Constantin Silvestri?
Silvestri please! Alexandra obliged with the 'Danse Bachanale' ('Drunken Orgy') from 'Samson and Delilah'. Alexandra really had fun with the 'orgy', drunkenly lurching around the keyboard, launching into sudden frenzied passages, maintaining a drunken plod in the bass with tipsy trill in the treble. A wonderful combination and a very impressive finish.

Alexandra seemed to be saying that she had performed the whole of 'Samson and Delilah' with the Bornemouth Symphony Orchestra. I wish I had been there!

Alexandra has also recently toured Argentina, where thousands flocked to hear her music. Here in Budleigh, one holiday maker from Nottingham, who had seen Alexandra at Wigmore Hall could not believe their luck when she reappeared at - the Budleigh Festival!

Later this year Alexandra will be in the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre, with the Orchestra of St Paul's, to perform Shostakovich's First Piano Concerto. There is also talk of Beethoven's 'Emperor' Symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Barbican Centre - and a Grieg concerto in Cambridge. A real high flyer ('Rising Star 2011' according to BBC Music!) Lets hope we are lucky enough to see Alexandra in Devon again soon.

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