Canberra Theatre. 7th June 2012
Reviewed by Bill Stephens
Whoever advised Roger Woodward that it was a good idea to perform his concert on the vast, stripped-back Canberra Theatre stage on one of the coldest nights of the year, did him a disservice. But even in this setting, which had all the atmosphere of a draughty aircraft hangar, and saddled with a piano which required the services of a tuner throughout the interval, plus a noisy air-conditioning system, Roger Woodward still managed to enchant his audience with an evening of superlative piano playing.
Although some may have wished for a more adventurous program featuring the compositions of some of the contemporary composers like Xenakis, Takemitsu or Sitzky that he so famously champions , the carefully chosen program of Debussy, Mozart, Bach and Chopin proved deeply satisfying and provided plenty of opportunities for Woodward to display the virtuosity for which he is so justly admired.
The first of the three Debussy Estampes with which Woodward opened the concert, certainly suffered from the unsympathetic atmosphere as the audience struggled to capture the delicate evocations of oriental temples being conjured up from the piano. However, Woodward’s intense, no-nonsense technique and Debussy’s lush textures soon won over and we quickly succumbed to the beauty of the pieces and to Woodward’s fascinating interpretations.
But if the Debussy hadn’t done the trick, then Woodward’s enthralling performance of the three selections from Mozart’s K570 piano sonata, and three preludes and fugues from J.S.Bach’s “Well Tempered Clavier” certainly left no doubt of his command and mastery of his instrument.
The second half of the program was devoted to Chopin. It included three mazurkas, the "Fantaisie in F minor", the "Ballade No. 4 in F.Minor" and finished with an exhilarating, gutsy account of the familiar "Polonaise in A – Flat Major", which left the audience cheering. Rewarded with three encores which included a glittering account of the famous “Waltz in C Sharp minor”, most left the theatre aglow from the performance just experienced. Others perhaps mused on the somewhat bizarre presentation in our premier theatre venue of one of Australia’s national treasures.