It is not often one gets to hear the posthumous world première of an established great such as Olivier Messiaen. People flocked to see Peter Hill – an authority on the composer – deliver just that for this Music in the Round event.
The theme of the programme was appealing in itself, that of teacher and pupil. Four composers featured: Bach, Schoenberg, Berg, and Messiaen.
Bach was a great pedagogue, of course, and the famous Well-Tempered Clavier was written for the education of young keyboard players.
Hill, who has recently recorded all forty-eight preludes and fugues, chose two of these to start and finish the programme. What struck me most was his incredible understanding of every strand of Bach’s counterpoint; each voice had direction and was pronounced clearly.
Berg’s Piano Sonata, one of the greatest first opuses, was given an equally thorough reading. The links of sections were observed impeccably, and the large dynamic contrasts in Hill’s playing produced dramatic effect. Hill also performed the Six Little Piano Pieces Op. 19 by Berg’s teacher, Schoenberg, which were full of atmosphere.
The remainder of the programme featured contrasting works of Messiaen, most of which Hill studied under the guidance of the composer.
The early prelude, La Colombe was colourful – almost Debussy-like – and in three Catalogue d’oiseaux pieces the pianist captured the characterisation of each bird superbly. La Fauvette Passerinette, which Hill discovered and completed, exhibited the pianist’s tremendous technique and facility.
The recital ended with the only surviving sight-reading exercise Messiaen wrote for his pupils. A masterpiece in itself, it was the perfect way to end a wonderful evening.