Elena Riu (piano) at Blackheath Halls 19 October 2003
Soler Four Sonatas
Mompou Childrens Pieces
This was an ideal Sunday Morning concert; just the right length and a balanced selection of music from this special pianist, who teaches at Trinity College of Music and has inaugurated a New Quays project there to broaden the appreciation of contemporary piano music.
Elena Riu displayed her special touch and affinity with the Blackheath Recital Room acoustics, as well as with their Bosendorfer in sonatas by Soler, whom she distinguished from Scarlatti in her introduction (all those were vital and conveyed enthusiasm together with nuggets of unusual information). Her Albeniz was of a quality that could stand comparison with the great Alicia de la Rocha. In the second half Elena Riu brought little known pieces by the now famous minituarist Mompou, then linked Copland and Piazolla before a South American rarity to end, followed by the tiniest of encores by the Australian doyen Peter Sculthorpe.
Elena Riu's recording of Soler is on Ensayo ENY-CD-9818 and makes for a pleasing 66 mins listening. The notes give full historical background, but there is special pleading to justify the instrument used - 'a good number of the sonatas perfectly adaptable to the piano', citing contemporary works 'for the Piano-forte or harpsichord'. My problem is a little more subtle; it is the use of a perfectly prepared modern Steinway (I presume?) that worries me. As a member of the piano teaching faculty of Trinity College, which has an important Faculty of Early Music, I would wish Ms Riu would take a closer part in the movement for historically informed performance which has to take in instruments as well as suitable technique for playing the music.
As I wrote last year, having been overwhelmed by a marvellous forte-piano at Trinity College, "Performances - - on the ubiquitous Steinway grand will soon come to seem anachronistic and belonging 'historically' to the twentieth century." Elena Riu's New Quays is about controversy and discussion! Do tell Musical Pointers what you think about performance of keyboard music of the eighteenth century?
No reservations about Elena Riu's earlier CD, a fascinating collection of mainly quiet and deceptively simple miniatures. Her touch, as exemplified at Blackheath, serves to perfection her selection of Piano Icons for the 21st Century (LINN records 2000). The cover features Tavener, Part & Sculthorpe in large print; in future decades it may seem quaint that Janacek (his searching and emotionally ambiguous In the Mists) and Mompou (his Charmes, charming indeed) are relegated to subsidiary billing! (Click here for full listing and biography.)
Little prestidigitation or pianistic fireworks to be heard on this meditative CD. Few of the pieces are out of reach of non-professional pianists, and no one will fail to benefit from this demonstration that ultimately the most important equipment for pianists is a pair of acutely sensitive ears to control the fingers!
© Peter Grahame Woolf