Snow Concert Hall International Series: Piers Lane

Snow-Concert-Hall-Piers-Lane-photo-by-Peter-HislopLondon-based Australian pianist, Piers Lane AO, is the second artist to be showcased in the Snow Concert Hall International Series.

Lane is an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music and during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Birthday Honours was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished services to the arts. In 2022 he was presented with the Sir Bernard Heinze Award for his service to music in Australia.

His concerto repertoire of over 100 works has led to engagements with many of the world’s great orchestra’s and he has been five times soloist at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall. He also gives annual solo recitals in Wigmore Hall.

Back in Australia to chair the jury for the Sydney International Piano Competition, Lane took the opportunity to delight his Canberra audience with a sublime concert of piano works by two master composer-pianists, Rachmaninoff and Chopin.

Having recorded more than 70 CDs and premiered works by contemporary composers including Brett Dean, Colin Matthews, Richard Mills, Carl Vine and Malcolm Williamson, Lane’s choice for this concert of a program of works by two of the great classic pianist-composers, at first seemed particularly intriguing.

His program was presented in two halves. The first devoted to Sergei Rachmaninoff and the second to Frederic Chopin. In his charming introductions to each section Lane explained the reasons for his choices and the connections between the two composers.

Commencing with arguably Rachmaninoff’s most popular composition, his Prelude in C-sharp Minor, Op 3 No 2, which some believe was inspired by the bells of the Kremlin; Lane immediately captured the audience attention with his dramatic rendering of the first three chords.

He played them so commandingly that the audience hardly dared to breathe until, after an extended pause, he echoed the tentative reply.  From those three notes onward he kept the audience in his thrall with his virtuosic shaping of this favourite work.

He followed with four more Rachmaninoff concerti, deftly revealing the varying moods and essence of each, before arriving at perhaps the most intriguing work on the program, Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22

Lane explained that Rachmaninoff was an admirer of Chopin and often featured Chopin’s compositions in his concerts. He had composed these variations as homage. It proved to be an imposing work demanding a virtuosic interpretation, which is exactly what it received from Lane.

Following an interval, Lane continued with a collection of 11 short Chopin compositions, four of which, he explained, had originally been used for a short baller choreographed by Michel Fokine entitled Chopiniana. Fokine later reworked his idea by adding more of Chopin’s compositions to create the ballet Les Sylphides for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Commencing with the majestic Polonaise in A Major, Op.40 No.1, Lane worked his way the entire suite of Nocturne’s, Mazurkas, Tarantellas and Waltz’s, until he arrived at the final Grande Valse Brilliant in E-flat, performing each with such exquisite delicacy that it was impossible not to conjure up visions of the ethereal white-clad sylphs which provided the inspiration for one of Fokine’s most enduring ballet blancs.

Following an encore of one more Chopin nocturne, the lushly romantic Nocturne in E Flat Major, the blissed-out audience filed out into the frosty Canberra evening warmed by the realisation that it had just experienced a remarkable performance by a celebrated Australian piano virtuoso. One which will undoubtedly become a treasured memory.

Snow Concert Hall International Series: Piers Lane
Snow Concert Hall, 40 Monaro Crescent, Red Hill (Canberra)
Performance: Thursday 29 June 2023

Image: Piers Lane – photo by Peter Hislop

Review: Bill Stephens OAM