Fairy Tale Interview Concert – Rabiga Dyussembayeva at The Denton, Worthing Pier, Friday May 9

The wind blowing up and the rising sea pouring towards the panoramic windows of The Denton set the scene for a piano powerhouse to return to Worthing. From the Kazakh former capital of Almaty, Rabiga Dyussembayeva hit the head and the heart of her listeners and then revealed bits of herself in interview in between.

Later she told Timothy J Chick that the pianists she admires and from who she draws inspiration, as well as her teacher in Manchester, Benjamin Frith, are big deliverers, John Ogdon (the late), Peter Donohoe and Barry Douglas. All three are previous British winners of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow − the city whose Conservatoire prepared Dyussembayeva for her current studies at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.

This news completed the picture for listeners who through the evening had heard Dyussembayeva build a Spring-dawn programme themed around fairy tale. She chose Beethoven’s three-movement Opus 14 No 2 Sonata in G to ask ‘ Are you sitting comfortably?’ and what a revelatory choice this was.

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In this context a warm-up piece, any Beethoven is a flexing of the muscles, but after the airy, breezy opening movement, the March variations, which warmed up Dyussembayeva’s comedic pianistic tools, came music in the finale that I’m pretty sure no-one in the house had envisioned in previous hearings as the games, frolics and banter of elves and gnomes. And once that dawned on me, I was suddenly looking back on the familiar March and seeing an arriving parade of intriguing figures, perhaps the hardworking Seven Dwarves tramping through the trees into a clearing to start having some lunch-hour fun.

Next came Nos 1 and 3 of the six Fairy Tales by the Russian, Medtner, composed in the second half of his life, in London, and Dyussembayeva, with her ear and eye for humour, now moved into serious virtuosic gear. Playful and surprising, including a declared reference by the composer to Cinderella, Dyussembayeva told us in her spoken introduction, these strongly articulated colour pieces showed why Eastern European pianists talk of Medtner in the same breath as his contemporaries Prokofiev, Rachmaninov and Scryabin.

Liszt’s massively forward-looking, but skittish Bagatelle Without Tonality took us into a disorientating contemplation before Dyussembayeva gave us two Liszt arrangements of songs by Schumann. Dedication and Spring Night cued the more richly harmonised melody of this romantic master. The power and the passion, which so met Liszt’s sensibilities, hit the atmosphere like a heavy shower of summer rain and the two song subjects, both undoubtedly associated with Schumann’s longed-for wife Clara, further enriched the imaginative scope of the evening.

In her first interview she chose Bach as her preferred desert island piano music companion, and used in justification the saying: “As Bach is like God talking to his human race, Mozart is the human race talking back.” Which reminded me of Sir Colin Davis’ quote along the lines that while most great composers write about life, “Mozart is life itself.”

Dyussembayeva, in a long black velvet gown with short fluted sleeves, has black, shoulder-length, untied-back hair which as it falls forward in performance, obscures her face from many viewers and diverts their attention even more on the music itself. She forced their attention also on the Blüthner piano, which Olga Paliy had baptised as a Worthing venue classical instrument in her October Interview Concert.

And it was now that Dyussembayeva made the Blüthner thunder. In Schumann’s Carnaval, it responded with the fullest tone for its medium size as his sequence of people from the composer’s internal world dotted with his imagined character pictures of Italian Commedia dell’Arte favourites, including Harlequin, Colombine, Eusebius, Pierrot, Butterfly and Pantalone.

The Dyussembayeva drive and dynamic daring proved irresistible in a vivid performance of courage almost of the wildness of the type of landscape scenery which, in answer to an audience question, she said she drew musical inspiration – as well as, indeed, she does “from music itself”.

The astounding was not over. After this final interview, she encored with Debussy’s Etude in tribute to the early composer of studies, Czerny, and then the astonishing and explosive transcription by the Russian composer Ginsbourg of the familiar accelerating comic aria from Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. With that, in future days, Dyussembayeva will bring down much bigger houses than this.

Intimate and insightful, this Interview Concert series offered by Worthing Symphony Society is in its infancy and here was an example of the type of experience it promises. Here next will be further talents from the Sussex International Piano Competition, Olga Tezhko from Belarus on October 2 and Jessica Zhu on November 20.

Violinist Nicola Benedetti has sold out Worthing Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the Assembly Hall on May 25.

Richard Amey