Musical effect to the full

Pianist Nicholas McCarthy dazzled his audience with a series of works for the piano arranged for the left-hand only. Albert Storace finds the effect impressive.

I stand to be corrected, but I believe that this is the first instance of an entire piano recital composed solely for the left hand taking place in Malta. Award-winning British pianist Nicholas McCarthy, one of the few left-handed pianists in the world, certainly impressed his audience at St George’s Basilica, Victoria, during a recital that was held as part of this year’s Festival Mediterranea.

This young pianist took all the difficult and challenging hurdles the music threw at him in his stride

A certain amount of piano music has been written for the piano entirely for the left hand. Works that were originally written for two hands have also been transcribed for the left hand only and, on this evening’s programme, such skilful arrangements were presented. These tested the performer’s musical technique to the full.

In his comments before some of the pieces, McCarthy delved upon these aspects of the works. It was refreshing to see that apart from communicating well through his playing, the musician also addresses his audience with confidence. His comments complemented the notes prepared by Maria Frendo.

This young pianist took all the difficult and challenging hurdles the music threw at him in his stride. Whatever he performed, and no matter the style and idiom of the composition, the effect was such that upon closing one’s eyes it was not difficult to feel that this was music performed by two hands and not one. That much was established in a left-hand version of Liszt’s arrangement of Bach’s Fantasie in G minor.

When it came to Fumagalli’s left-hand arrangement of Casta Diva from Bellini’ s Norma, one sensed a slightly uncharacteristic hesitation in the theme’s first statement, after which the full bel canto nature of the piece flowed very nicely.

All the works leading to the brief interval were original works for left hand. First Reinecke’s formidable C minor Sonata, Op. 179 (less the minuet) which was quite a tour de force, followed by the two Skryabin pieces: the rather more energetic Prelude offset by the exquisite Nocturne. These, in turn, contrasted very well with Charbonnet’s piece based on M’apparì from Flotow’s Martha, distinguished by the difficult, yet fully delivered, ornamentation.

The second half opened with an arrangement of an arrangement, the Bach/Gounod Meditation on Prelude N.1, (or Ave Maria) which had one wonder how could all that was heard so effectively be the work of one hand? It was, and frankly a new peak was reached when Nicholas McCarthy performed Morgen, Op.27 N.4.

Applause burst forth after an original work for left hand was performed. This was Blumenfeld’s Étude in A flat Op. 36 which was projected with richly poetic passion and freshness.

Concluding, the pianist chose two Liszt arrangements; Du Bist Die Ruh was a mix of deeply felt serenity, passion and sensuality. In the darker and more striking Der Erlkö, the pianist’s amazing display of prowess, stamina and determined energy was nothing but dazzling. A truly great concert.

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