Review: Peter O’Hagan @ Cardiff University Concert Hall
It’s been a while since attending a concert at the Cardiff University Concert Hall, a year in fact. But it was looking at their new season that I noticed a piano concert that would be to my ever so modern and fussy taste. It would seem Peter O’Hagan was coming to town and I did not want to miss his concert. He is regarded as a great advocate of modern classical music, especially with Pierre Boulez. I admire most musicians who are willing to perform new music and even have new commissions by composers of today.
In his lecture before the concert, he spoke in a quiet and sensible voice with much insight into his profession. He spoke of Boulez’s ambiguity within his music. When O’Hagan approached him with problems with performing one of his piano works, he replied with "play what is written". He had also said to him when it came to performances "let's see what happens". Several questions where asked by the audience present as issues were as to why Boulez would want to conduct works by Mozart, i.e. music he is attached from. But a great conductor he is.
The concert itself had him performing no less than works by Boulez, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Messiaen (my favourite composer, you will here more from me about him!) and Bartk. Boulez’s music has this strange approachability for modern classical. His Incises of 2005 sounds hectic but going nowhere. Extracts from Liget’s Etudes were playful yet remained within the confines of his era.
As I sat in the hall, I realised I usually come here alone. The concert hall is quite staid (not to mention the new Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama metres away) but the organ is still a feature that is very impressive. Built into the walls, it’s such a shame it is not used more at concerts. In all fairness most of the audience, if not all consists of the university’s students (or as I call them, ‘the lucky buggers!') and staff. I found myself battling their egos at concerts as I could be seen as an intruder to their close-knit establishment.
After the interval, I was immensely looking forward to the works of Oliver Messiaen. He taught Boulez and is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. The work played was le De Feu 1 and 2 and Le Baiser De L’Enfant Jsus, from his Vingt Regards Sur L'Enfant-Jsus. These pieces all had energy and ecstasy to them as is well known with Messiaen. The later is taken from Vingt Regards, a two-hour, twenty-movement work just for piano! This being the fifteenth part, it is some sort of sweet lullaby, which is one of the calmer moments in the huge work. It was the final piece by Bartk, the Out Of Doors Suite of 1926, which can be seen as a sign of things to come musically as the last century progressed.
O’Hagan’s playing was nothing sort of marvellous. He had in the lecture given little snippets of some of the work on a miniature grand piano. His mellow nature is mirrored by his broad and firm use of the piano. I noted that in the first half of the concert he played without the sheet music, yet did use it in the second half.
Why can’t more players be like him?