A review of Tim Smith’s performance in the Church of St Michael at the North Gate, Oxford on 22nd June 2019 by Julia Gasper.
Every year Tim Smith gives a piano recital in Oxford and every year he gets better and better. This was the first he has given since leaving the Birmingham Conservatoire and going to study on a scholarship at the Franz Liszt Conservatoire of Music in Budapest under András Kemenes. It was a truly exciting and impressive concert.
It opened with a brilliant and impetuous performance of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D minor from the Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2. It had clarity and style even though flawed by some signs of nervousness. This was followed by one of Beethoven’s last and greatest piano sonatas, number 30 in E major, Opus 109. Beethoven’s late piano sonatas are profound and mysterious music, deeply serious and soul-searching. Tim Smith’s performance rose fully to the challenge, and was thoughtful, mature and insightful. The theme and variations truly came over as one continuous meditation. The melodies were beautifully shaped, he made the piano sing and sustained the audience’s rapt concentration to the end.
In the second half of the recital, Tim gave a flamboyant account of Bartók’s Suite opus 14, music that suits him down to the ground. This was eloquent as well as colourful and exuberant playing, driven by a dance-like energy and conviction.
Janacek’s suite “In the Mists” is a lesser-known example of late-Impressionist piano writing, that provided an excellent contrast to the Bartók. It showed that Tim Smith can be lyrical and sensitive with a range of subtle nuances in his playing. He was a good advocate for this music, persuading us that it should be heard more often.
The culmination of the recital was Liszt’s Sonata-Fantasy “After Reading Dante”. I think I know this piece pretty well and have heard it performed by great artists, including Alfred Brendel. Tim Smith’s performance measured up to the very best. It had everything – the bold rhetoric, the contemplative introspective moods, the sense of heroic struggle, the visionary exaltation and at times the almost explosive intensity – all well under control. It was phenomenal and the audience was really gob-smacked.
Altogether this was a wonderful evening, it was good to see the venue well filled as it deserved to be, and we look forward to following Tim Smith’s future career.