XXII Reims International Festival Review - Debussy/Bach June 2011


Roger Woodward, Perfection at his Fingertips

A critic must always question whether a concert is worthy of being showered with praise.  This evening, it was a joy to answer this question.

Even before the pianist emerged, the programme impressed: three ‘estampes’ and 12 pieces comprising book 2 of the Debussy Preludes, followed by the six suites of the 6th Partita in E minor BWV830 by Bach.  Suffice to say, the audience was expecting to be wowed!

The first part of the concert in Debussy’s honour was remarkable, insofar as Roger Woodward’s playing attained perfection.  Remaining imperturbable throughout, he seemed to let the pieces follow with childlike ease.  The notes flowed, imbuing the music with an image of harmonic mistiness, which was illustrated by the simple melodic lines he created with consummate ease.  More than a contrasting rendering, the artist gave each note a precise intensity, letting us glimpse the contours and perspective the composer wanted to give to his Preludes.  Although Roger Woodward is an Australian, this evening he seemed to be French music’s worthy heir.

His dazzling, transcendant touch appeared again in Bach’s work.  His mastery of this music enabled him to offer it to us nakedly and deprived of artifice.  His impartial playing allowed gusts of emotion to be released, particularly when the fugue themes began:  each time the subject appeared, it found its identity throughout the entire Partita.  This is the extraordinary talent of the artist: to give life and careful attention to each musical segment so that we’re kept in suspense for two whole hours!

If this concert was unified by the precious gem that epitomises his playing in the service of absolute art, the artist’s talent was his masterly handling of two periods in time, totally distinct one from the other.  The small audience can rejoice at having finally been a privileged elite this evening.  Their ovation and enthusiasm prompted an encore and, by overwhelming us with Debussy’s ‘La Cathedrale engloutie’, here again, and perhaps most symbolically, Roger Woodward proved he knew what constitutes a complete concert.


A genius Toulouse Press