A review by Julia Gasper

Oxford can be proud of Tim Smith, who went from here to study piano at the Birmingham Conservatoire three years ago. He has emerged a confident and dazzling pianist with a mature musical understanding and a technique that seems up to anything.

Starting with the Beethoven Sonata opus 27 no. 1, he gave us an arresting performance with a generous, warm singing tone, classical poise, and eloquence. Along with the startling contrasts, the nuances and the filigree details were lovingly played.

He then embarked on the magisterial Brahms Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. This took us on a roller-coaster of musical thrills and strange landscapes. The sense of risk and adventure was heightened by the sweetness of the lyrical interludes. One minute solemn, the next boisterous and high-spirited, it needs a protean pianist, and Tim Smith proved himself equal to all the demands of this ever-changing kaleidoscope of a work. We seemed to hear galloping hooves, icy stalactites, exotic birdsong, glimmering starlight, thundering waves, avalanches of notes and broad, sweeping rivers of melody carrying everything along in their flood. The fugue was gripping and brought everything back under intellectual control.

The three Debussy preludes are pieces Tim performed at one of his student recitals. How changed they are! From the first, calm, disquieting chords of Danseuses de Delphe he played with poise and purpose. In Les Collines d’Anacapri the mercurial passages never sounded untidy and the climax was exhilarating. When it came to La Cathedrale Engloutie (The Sunken Cathedral) this was as fine as any performance you could hear anywhere, with a stern, austere presence emerging from the dreamlike nostalgia.

The recital ended with the Sonata by Dutilleux, a French composer of the mid-twentieth century. It is a very turbo-charged, driven work, full of jagged rhythms, creating at times an atmosphere of terror and perplexity. It is overwhelming, and menacing, evoking an age of war and tragedy. The slow movement is mournful and philosophically resigned. Tim Smith impressed to the very end with his stamina, his assurance in delivering this idiom of music, and his boldness in surmounting the challenges of its frenetic last movement.

Tim is returning to Birmingham to study further as a postgraduate, and we all look forward to seeing where his future career takes him. We hope that next time he plays in Oxford, he will be playing in the Sheldonian or the Town Hall, as his musical maturity now deserves.

 

Julia Gasper 17th Sept 2017.

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