BBC Review Roger Woodward, July 2007
Roger Woodward, Queen's College, Taunton
Sunday July 15th 2007
© Tim Shuker July 19th, 2007

Roger Woodward is an internationally renowned Pianist who, oddly, seems to have escaped our notice, especially in Somerset. He was the winner of the ABC Commonwealth Instrumental and Vocal Competition in 1964 in Australia, and has since then acquired a formidable reputation as an interpreter of a vast range of music, ranging from Bach to Xenakis. He has had a large number of works composed specially for him by some of the 20th century's most important composers and is valued highly for an almost unique combination of a formidable technique and intuitive ability combined with a razor-sharp intellect, which produces performances of rare insight and beauty.

This combination was very much in evidence in his recital at Queens College in Taunton on Sunday July 15th. Beginning with three of Debussy's Estampes, composed in 1903, the scene was set for a magical evening. Roger Woodward's performance of these beautiful, ethereal works seemed to suspend time, each chord lasting simultaneously an eternity and yet a matter of a few brief seconds. The whole was akin to being surrounded by an aura of magical incense.

The spiritual link with the next work, Mozart's Sonata in B flat major, K570 was made clear immediately. Mozart is no impressionist. Yet, there was the same feeling of clarity within an inspired musical space drawn with vivid colours that was felt in the Debussy. It was a performance of grace and poise that reminded this reviewer of a ballerina taking class.

Last in the first half was an electrifying performance of Bach's Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903. Roger Woodward's experience with modern music showed itself in a performance that gripped heart and head in a vice from beginning to end. The effect was to regenerate this masterpiece for the 21st century right in front of our astonished ears. For many people in the audience, this was the highlight of the programme.

But after the interval there was so much more to come. First, there were six mazurkas by Chopin, small dance pieces, which acquired a quite unusual spiritual dimension in the hands of this interpreter. None of them was treated as a mere "salon" piece. All were given their due, and much love and attention. Rachmaninov once said that in composing a piece of music, or in performing a concert, there was a natural flow to it, and a high point that could only be achieved intuitively. If this were missed, the whole point of the work, or the recital would be lost. None of us realised that the final two pieces in the recital, Chopin's Poloniase-Fantasie in A flat major op.61, and the Barcarolle in F sharp major op.60, terrific though the performances were, were simply preludes leading to the high point Rachmaninov mentioned. This was achieved in the absolutely stunning encores played for the totally enraptured audience. In a deafening silence, in which you could have heard a pin drop, Chopin's Nocturne in D flat op.26 No.2, was followed by two works by Debussy, of increasing emotional intensity and power, the Preludes No.8 from Book 2, "Ondine" and finally, Prelude 12 from Book 2, called "Feu d'Artifice" (Fireworks). This last was the "high point" for everyone in the audience. It was an interpretation of such shocking intensity and power that I could not imagine it being bettered. The "fireworks" went off spectacularly, ending the recital on an enormous high for everyone present.

This was a truly marvelous evening of music which delivered new perspectives on all the composers featured, something of a rarity in any musical genre. Roger Woodward is returning to this country to give another recital during the Christmas period, possibly of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier. On the strength of the stupendous playing of the German Master heard here, that should really be something to look forward to. So keep your eyes on the concert listings and make sure to book your seats at the first opportunity.

© Tim Shuker July 19th, 2007