Exhilarating approach from a humble pianist
Reviewed by Harriet Cunningham
June 16, 2008
Roger Woodward, City Recital Hall, June 13.
Roger Woodward strode onto the stage, acknowledged his audience with
a self-deprecating smile and then sat down and entered into another
Dmitry Shostakovich's 24 Preludes And Fugues, Op. 87, are not
for the faint-hearted. Written in 1951, in the temporary shadow of the
Zhdanov Decree of 1948, they are defiantly abstract, cerebral and infused
with the spirit of Bach. Woodward's approach mirrored Shostakovich's
bold (and potentially foolhardy) stance, a principled asceticism which
dodged the temptation to linger over any lyricism. It worked brilliantly.
Far from being cold and imperious, Woodward's humble austerity, combined
with a machine-cut accuracy, had the effect of slowly building warmth
and intensity, backed by a burning conviction in the right of these
notes to just be.
Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1, by contrast, began
with the sunny C major Prelude, all sweetness and light and drawing
a bell-like clarity from the instrument. Woodward's technique remains
manifestly flawless: his shoulders barely move, balancing his monk-like
shaven head, as if concentrating all energy into the hands.
There is no clue from the body language as to what is going to flow
out from these powerful tools; a deep breath, a turn of the page and
then exhilarating cascades of a breakneck C sharp major, a determinedly
perfect D major and on, up the keyboard, into the time-stopping poise
of D sharp minor. There were a few grimaces as a note here and there
refused to stay in line, but nothing that could not be forgiven by the
time the Tierce de Picardy arrived.
One last thing. Why, for this, the first complete performance of Shostakovich's
Preludes And Fugues in Australia, was there no recording, no
broadcast? A missed opportunity.