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Remarkable night in the company of a master musician Barry Douglas

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Key to success: Barry Douglas is the artistic director of the Clandeboye Festival of Music

Key to success: Barry Douglas is the artistic director of the Clandeboye Festival of Music

Key to success: Barry Douglas is the artistic director of the Clandeboye Festival of Music

Brahms had trouble with Beethoven, complaining in his early years that he always heard "the tramp of a giant" behind him when he tried to compose his own music. You can certainly sense Beethoven's influence in the flamboyant opening gestures of Brahms' C major Piano Sonata, the Op. 1 he published when he had only just turned 20.

It's a tumultuous and teemingly romantic piece of writing, and it dominated the first half of Barry Douglas's annual solo recital at the Belfast pianist's Clandeboye Festival.

Douglas's interpretation of the piece was totally commanding, mingling moments of dreamy contemplation with the surges of muscular self-assertion which are never far from the surface in the young Brahms's writing.

Douglas is acutely alive to the sheer variety of rhythmic attack Brahms uses, and the ways in which this subtly modulates and refines the music's emotional message.

Crucially, he has the technique to implement these finer rhythmic distinctions, making his reading as deeply satisfying intellectually as it is thrilling viscerally.

The jubilation conjured from the heart of the Scherzo's Trio section was a special moment, and one only achievable by the finest virtuosi.

Preceding the C major sonata were Brahms's Op. 39 Waltzes. These are ostensibly more unbuttoned, sunnier pieces, but it was remarkable how much introspection Douglas located, how much wistfulness among the tripping dance patterns. More Brahms – his three Intermezzi, Op. 117 – launched the second half of the recital.

These are pieces from fairly late in the composer's life, and Douglas caught their commingling of beauty and sorrow with the sure touch of a Brahmsian master.

The concert ended with one of the great masterpieces of romantic piano, Schubert's 'Wanderer' Fantasy. This is a work which Douglas has recently recorded, and his engagement with it seems deep and total.

His interpretation has tremendous propulsive thrust, and a constant sense of volcanic forces straining to burst the surface crust of Schubert's music.

A remarkable recital by a great, unflaggingly full-hearted artist.

Five stars

Belfast Telegraph


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