Ashley Wass with Radlett Music Club at The Radlett Centre*****

10:10am Thursday 8th December 2011

This recital of music for solo piano comprised pieces from a wide span: some 200 years of music. It required, therefore, versatility in interpretation as well as technical mastery. The Radlett Music Club had again chosen well in enabling us to hear for ourselves how Ashley Wass acquired his reputation.

Beethoven's sonatas are essential to every pianist's repertoire. Among them, Sonata No:24 in F sharp is among the shorter and less well-known, but offers its individual challenge. Wass made the most of its variations in tempo and sensitive dynamics.

The programme continued with works by Mendelssohn, Liszt, Bach-Busoni and Samuel Barber. All were, each in its own way, standard works: perhaps the last-mentioned two were the most interesting.

Some 200 years after Bach composed the Chaconne in D minor for the violin it was adapted by Busoni to interpret Bach's music on the piano - an instrument about which, of course, the original composer knew almost nothing. So Busoni contributed the romantic flourishes and Wass the impressive piano technique, with much fortissimo, pedalling and hand-crossing. Whether you prefer Bach in the original is a matter of taste.

Barber is perhaps one of the best known American composers. He wrote his Piano Sonata in E flat minor, opus 26, in 1949. It is on the grand scale, and in this programme it was the most striking virtuoso piece, appropriately played by Wass after the Three Petrarch Sonnets by Liszt - that archetypal virtuoso of a century earlier.

This sonata by Barber has everything: a vigorous start, rhythmical variety, lyrical and dramatic themes, highly decorated passages, expressive dynamics. After all the musical experimentation of the last century, this performance by Wass showed that we can now regard Barber as a composer in the great tradition.

Graham Mordue

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