Dr Challoner’s Grammer School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, was the setting for a piano recital given by Russian pianist Alexander Ardakov on 8th October 2011. The concert was in aid of the friends of the Belarusian Children’s Hospice (UK) and, much to everyone’s delight, the school hall was virtually full.

Ardakov moved to the UK in 1991 and has enjoyed a busy concert diary ever since alongside working as Professor of piano at Trinity College of Music.

The concert opened with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No 8 in C minor Pathetique’. The Grave needed a more majestic opening in order to contrast with the Allegro di molto e con brio however the latter section was full of rhythmic drive and energy. The Adagio cantabile was slightly over pedalled but the Rondo Allegro was well judged.

Ardakov followed with a Chopin selection comprising two Nocturnes (Op 9 no 1 in B flat minor and no 2 in E flat major) and Scherzo no 2 in B flat minor op 31. The first Nocturne was beautifully phrased and given a real sense of line but the second was rather fast and a little rushed which sadly stifled the musical content. The Scherzo was carefully structured although some of the passagework required greater clarity and finger dexterity.

A highlight of the evening was a performance of four works by the English composer John Skiba (1949 – ); Atmosphere no 1, Peace, Song for Iker, and Nocturne in G. Skiba’s very tonal musical voice is characterized by rich atmospheric sonorities, which were for me, similar in some ways to the music of John Ireland and some of his British contemporaries. The composer was present in the audience and clearly delighted with Ardakov’s reading.

It is 200 years since the birth of the great Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt. Many festivals have been celebrating by including plenty of Liszt in their programmes and Ardakov was no exception. The second half was devoted solely to the pianist’s music and we were treated to a veritable feast of Liszt favourites.

The Sonetto 104 del Petrarca would have benefited from a slower tempo and was over pedalled with some uncertain moments but the ‘Rigoletto’ Concert Paraphrase was exceptionally well executed. In the Liebestraum No 3, a must for all Liszt programmes, Ardakov used a wonderfully rich sound and the passagework was like gossamer. Liszt’s Tarantella (the third piece from the Venezia e Napoli set) was definitely the highlight and the audience all agreed! Ardakov rose to the technical challenges and gave an exciting performance. The Consolation no 3 was convincing and acted as a prelude to the great Mephisto Waltz. Ardakov captured the scary character in this piece and there was plenty of power in the finale passagework. The audience’s enthusiastic reception prompted a couple of encores which concluded a most enjoyable recital.

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