Iffley Music Society

February 6th 2016

Riyad Nicolas


Riyad Nicolas, from Aleppo, Syria, came to London in 2005 to continue his musical education at the Purcell School. Since then London has been his home and thanks to the support of the Countess of Munster Musical Trust, Iffley Music Society was immensely privileged to host him. 

Notable features of the concert were its variety and immense seriousness of the programme. To begin with, a work of Bach’s maturity, the C major Prelude and Fugue from Book Two of his "Forty-eight", came as a kind of solemn introduction to the first heavyweight of the evening, one of Beethoven’s magnificent set of late sonatas, No. 31 in A-flat major, Op.110.  Compared with the other contemporary sonatas, such as the earth-shaking Hammerklavier this one is shorter, less “grand” and less well known. It was an inspired selection and showcased the outstanding musicianship of the pianist. He drew out the full dramatic potential of Beethoven's music and a sequence of chords in the last section covered the full dynamic range of the Steinway piano in a startling and finely judged crescendo.

A Chopin Mazurka followed with the great Polonaise-fantasie. This is music of a much lighter texture. The Polonaise is one of Chopin’s greatest works and in the inspired performance we heard seemed to encompass the whole of the composer's marvelous range within its span.

The second half of the concert suddenly transported us back to the classical era, with two of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas. Born in the same annus mirabilis (1685) as Bach and Handel, he is much less well known, and less versatile in his gifts, perhaps, than those giants, but his preludes are always a breath of fresh air, light, charming, and undemanding on the listener.

These prepared us gently for a jump two centuries forward to one of the greatest of all masterpieces for the piano – and, according to many pianists, one of the most difficult to play. Ravel’s "Gaspard de la nuit" may not carry much emotion, but it beguiles the ear in every bar. Here we heard an outstanding performance of the whole suite. “Ondine” gave Riyad Nicholas the opportunity of showing off a truly watery and tinkling delicacy and we gasped at the amazing virtuosity he displayed in “Scarbo”.

This led us to Liszt, where Riyad Nicholas charmed us with every note of Consolation No.3 and then let off a final burst of steam with a Grande étude de Paganini. By this time he had been playing for almost two hours, excluding the interval, and we thought he must be exhausted. Not a bit of it; three encores were to follow, the last a delight from a folklore sequence by the Aleppo-born composer Dia' al-Succari (1938-2010).

Michael Bourdeaux