Riverside Arts Centre, Sunbury

Richard Black, 2016

It was a real joy to welcome back Joseph Tong to the Riverside Arts Coffee Concerts series. 

Here is a pianist whose flawless technique is always at the service of the music, so that the listener is hearing the composer realised through the musician, not the musician’s version of the composer.

Haydn’s Sonata in E flat Hob.XVI/49 opened the programme. The opening Allegro was played with controlled energy and forward momentum, followed by a deeply insightful account of the remarkable Adagio e Cantabile, which drew us all into its profound world. The final Tempo di Menuet was graceful but its darker middle section provided moments of reflection. The Valses Nobles et Sentimentales by Ravel were given truly poetic and spiritual performances. The vigorous pieces were played with strength but with none of the excessive percussiveness that can make them sound harsh in the hands of some other pianists. The melancholic and nostalgic pieces went poetically to the heart of the music.

The Five Pieces by Sibelius. The Trees stood out as lesser compositions in a concert of masterpieces, but Joseph combined their meditative qualities with the murmuring timbres so characteristic of the composer. 

The Petrarch Sonnet No 104 and the famous Mephisto Waltz by Liszt rounded off the programme. The grandiloquent Sonnet was played with passion and rich sonorities, the Mephisto Waltz with a powerful but mercurial touch, its tempi never rushed, so that we  heard all the strands of  the diabolical dance interwoven with the poetic yearnings throughout the piece; a superbly judged but seemingly spontaneous performance with mounting energy and force, which rightly drew huge applause from a good-sized audience. 

The excellent news is that Joseph Tong is expected back for another recital at RAC; readers please note, his concerts are not to be missed.