I have witnessed more than fifteen piano performances by notable artists in the past 6 months. Each has demonstrated dazzling prestos and moving adagios. There is no lack of brilliant pianists in 2016 and Toronto has been witness to its share. From Lang Lang and Yuja Wang to Jan Lisiecki and Charles Richard-Hamelin, there is a richness of talent in our concert halls. Last night at the St. Lawrence Centre in the Chamber Music Downtown series by Music Toronto, little known British pianist Danny Driver was added to the list of formidable pianists in our midst.
Driver, in his Toronto debut, presented a programme that extended from early eighteenth century J.S. Bach to twentieth century Sergei Prokofiev. Driver is known in Britain for championing less heard works of familiar and unfamiliar composers. He has recorded piano works of C.P.E Bach, Handel, Balakirev and Schumann as well as lesser known composers such as York Bowen, Benjamin Dale and Erik Chisholm. His decision to choose less familiar works for last night’s concert was refreshing to say the least.
The most familiar work of the evening was Bach’s French Suite No. 5 in G, BWV 816. Its familiarity might be the result of Angela Hewitt’s championing of the Bach suites. Certainly the Gavotte is performed by most aspiring pianists at an early stage in their development. Driver opened the programme with this seven movement dance suite. He brought out all of the grace and elegance of the Allemande, the melancholy of the beautifully ornamented Sarabande, the gaiety and charm of the Gavotte, and the galloping sprightliness of the final gigue.
Robert Schumann’s Symphonic Études-Op. 13 was a new work for me. Each of the études is a variation on the agonizingly sad opening theme which is characterized by its downward reaching chords. Schumann’s twelve variations display all of his bi-polar breadth of emotion and end with a jubilant fanfare in the final variation. Driver convinced me through his performance that this work is worthy of more of my time.
In the second half of the concert, Driver took us on a trip to Russia with works by three twentieth century Russian composers. Mily Balakirev’s Nocturne No. 2 in B Minor written in 1901 is a Russian lament. Driver spun the long melodic phrases to perfection. The mysteriousness of the ending left me breathless.
The second of three Russian works was Serge Rachmaninoff’s Études-tableaux, No. 1-3 Op. 39. Written at the onset of the Russian revolution, it was his last composition written in Russia. The three contrasting études demonstrated Driver’s enormous virtuosity. The mood-painting that the work demands came through all of the technical challenges.
Serge Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Op. 83 although not often heard, has been performed three times in the last five days by three artists in Toronto. It is a gripping work, full of the torment and grief of war-time Russia. There is the energy of a nation preparing to fight in the first movement. The tolling bells in the second movement remind one of the relentless pain of the battlefield. In the third movement, one can hear the bullets and mortar shells pounding. Driver brought the understanding of a mature artist to the work. His brilliance in the final moments was riveting.
Once again, Music Toronto brought to our city, a musical gem. Hopefully Toronto will hear Driver once again in the near future. He will be in Montreal tonight after which he leaves for a performance in Paris. The next Chamber Music Downtown concert will take place at the St. Lawrence Centre on December 1st at 8 pm with Suzie LeBlanc, soprano, Robert Kortgaard, piano and the Blue Engine String Quartet.
DANNY DRIVER shows versatility and virtuosity in wide-ranging solo piano concert!
Music reviews of the finest concerts in Toronto:
symphonic, choral, opera, chamber, jazz and period music
Pianist Danny Driver
Review by David Richards
Toronto ON November 16th 2016