Though he has rapidly established a reputation as one of the great interpreters of British piano music of the last century, it was good to hear Ashley Wass in wider-ranging repertoire for this Bromsgrove Concert in memory of committee member Tom French.
Wass has an engaging platform manner as he speaks to the audience, but some distracting aspects of his body-language risk diminishing the effects of his performance (no problem, of course, with his highly successful CD releases).
A habit of turning his head away from the keyboard, down and to the right at certain key moments, of swinging his left foot occasionally, and at times of appearing to chew, all added to the irritating effect of a rather mannered account of Beethoven’s charming E-flat Sonata, Opus 33 No.1.
Without any real implied backbone, the lovely first movement turned into a series of episodes, but elsewhere Wass played with shifting reserves of power, wit, and a shrewd inference that Schubert learned much from this work.
The spirit of Liszt hovered over the more successful remainder of the programme. His three Petrarch Sonnets were well balanced texturally and sensitively delivered, and the structural thinking behind his mighty Sonata surely lay behind Bax’s single-movement Sonata No.1.
Here Wass revealed all his sympathy for this unsettling composer, whose music can sometimes sound like rhapsodic caricature and at other times build paragraphs of almost unbearable tension.
Wass concluded with Franck’s Prelude, Choral et Fugue, Lisztian in its cyclic use of material, unfolding this magnificent piece with an intellectual grip upon the status of every element within the whole.