Wednesday 5 April 2017

A terrific, varied recital of contemporary piano works by South African composers from pianist, Renée Reznek on a new release from Prima Facie

Given the relative lack of exposure that the music of South African contemporary composers receive, a new release from Prima Facie  entitled From My Beloved Country featuring pianist, Renée Reznek , is especially welcome.


Renée Reznek was born in South Africa and studied with Adolf Hallis, a pupil of Tobias Mattay. She later studied with Lamar Crowson, graduating with distinction from the University of Cape Town with a Bachelor of Music degree. She subsequently received a scholarship to study with Gyorgy Sandor at the University of Michigan, USA.

Reznek made her London debut in the Park Lane Group’s series Young Artists and Twentieth Century Music, playing Debussy, Schoenberg and a new piece written for her by Robert Saxton. She has received critical acclaim for her playing and for her adventurous programming and was much praised for her Wigmore Hall recital of the complete solo piano music of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. She has performed throughout Britain, Europe and South Africa, giving solo recitals as well as performing concerti and chamber music.

Renée Reznek commissioned Neo Muyanga’s Hade, TaTa (Sorry Father) (2013) in honour of Nelson Mandela and to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first democratic elections in South Africa. Born in Soweto, heir to a long line of musicians, Muyanga draws on traditional Sesotho and Zulu music fused with Ethiopian melismatic style, jazz and western classical music. Hade, TaTa has a slow thoughtful opening that expands through some fine harmonies, soon brightening, finding little rhythmic variations that make the music skip along with a fine melody running through. There are passages of greater breadth that bring lovely sonorities before the music returns to its gentler nature, developing into a bluesy tune with Reznek bringing a lovely, subtle touch.

Kevin Volans’ PMB Impromptu (2014) celebrates a shared birthplace, referencing both African and Western European traditions, sometimes humorously. A fast, delicate motif appears over which notes are laid with varying rhythmic patterns as the music develops between both hands, stunningly played here. The piece is continually developing through some fine sonorities before a slow, gentle coda.

Volans’ Garden of Forking Paths (2014) proceeds at a mesmeric, meditative pace, opening with gentle harmonies, this pianist finding the most lovely touch as the music subtly and slowly develops. There are some gorgeous harmonies, creating a lovely remote atmosphere.

Michael Blake’s Broken Line (2015) is influenced by Eastern Cape bow music and exudes a vitality which evokes Africa. A staccato rhythmic motif opens, quickly varying and occasionally finding broader passages, though always retaining the same basic idea. Throughout, the music varies in tempo and harmonies, a terrific exercise in writing around a simple unchanging theme.  Blake’s Seventh Must Fall (2016) is equally minimalist, a response to protests at South African Universities. A melancholy descending theme is gently taken forward. As it progresses it becomes subtly slower, an effect that only serves to add to the melancholy.

Rob Fokkens’ delicately minimalist Five Miniatures (2007) also relate to Xhosa bow traditions as well as Western European style. The opening miniature follows the preceding track beautifully with a slow intricately thoughtful theme. The next is a faster, rhythmically pointed theme that darts around before rising upwards at the end. Another quiet and gentle, yet animated, piece follows before rapid arpeggios sound out brilliantly. The fifth and final miniature brings a gentle conclusion, a gentle rhythmic sway that is interrupted by a faster idea.

Hendrik Hofmeyr is an Afrikaans composer who went into voluntary exile, only returning to South Africa at the end of apartheid. His Partita Africana I. Preludio II. (2006) includes fragments of San music. The rich, rolling chords that open are soon interrupted by a hushed gentle theme. The chords develop each time, increasing in strength only to fall to a quieter, thoughtful section that develops through a rather lovely, sad passage. The music rises in strength before its conclusion, now interrupted by the quieter theme. Hofmeyr’s Umsindo (2006) brings an offset rhythmic idea that is developed through broader passages, finding some lovely harmonies, always retaining the irregular rhythms. There are some terrific repeated phrases before a sudden declamatory conclusion.

Peter Klatzow’s Barcarolle (Arnold Schoenberg in Venice) (2005), which quotes from Schoenberg, does not draw on African influences. It brings a gently rocking theme through which Klatzow weaves some fine melodic lines, developing through some impressive bars with moments of great beauty, exquisitely brought out by Reznek. There are passages of increased strength and passion before finding a quiet close.

David Earl’s Song Without Words (2014) has an attractive, light and carefree quality, a simple beauty of its own, this pianist shaping it to perfection. Earl’s Barcarolle (2014) brings a slow opening that seems to have a deeper undercurrent. It proceeds through some lovely broad passages, developing a fine melody. Later there is a moment of quieter hesitation before the music regains its breadth as it moves through some very fine harmonies and textures, falling to lead to a lovely little coda that, nevertheless, ends on a decisive flourish.

David Kosviner’s Mbira Melody II (2016) is reminiscent of kalimba (an African instrument with a wooden board with staggered metal keys) music across the continent, bringing a repeated, rhythmic motif around which ideas grow, a melodic theme emerging. The opening idea continues as the melody expands over the rhythmic line, Renée Reznek bringing a great clarity. Eventually the melody takes on the rhythmic nature of the repeated idea. A joyous piece to end this terrific, varied recital. 

This is a welcome opportunity to hear contemporary South African piano works particularly in such fine performances. The recording is rather close but reveals much detail. There are useful booklet notes.