In a quiet backstreet just a couple of minutes’ walk from South Kensington underground station stands the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni. It is one branch of a global network that exists to promote cross-cultural dialogue and to showcase the best of French culture, be that through food, media, or music. The Art Deco building boasts a ciné lumière and a wood-panelled library, and it was the latter that formed the venue for an intimate piano recital given by the pianist Ferenc Vizi as part of the Institut’s recent festival It’s all about Piano!

Ferenc Vizi © Adrien Alleaume
Ferenc Vizi
© Adrien Alleaume

It’s all about Piano! was not designed as a way of promoting French pianists or French music in particular – in promoting cross-cultural dialogue, the soloists taking part in this three-day festival came from all over Europe. Ferenc Vizi himself hails from Transylvania; after lessons in his homeland, he went to Paris to study piano at the Conservatoire, graduating with a unanimous first prize. Although relatively unknown in the UK, he has won a number of prestigious piano competitions and has performed with various European orchestras, including the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra.

Vizi himself built the programme for his recital; the underlying theme was “travel”, with pieces inspired by popular music and dances. This thread brought together a very diverse range of pieces, from the Classical period to the 20th century, by composers hailing from the Americas, Spain, France, and Austria – very much a world tour. Working more-or-less in chronological order, the programme began with Mozart’s Fantasy in C minor, which itself travels almost inexplicably through key and rhythmic changes. There seem to be two approaches to performing this piece – one exploiting the Romantic nuances with plenty of rubato, and one taking a more literal approach, allowing the music to do the talking. Refreshingly, Vizi generally went for the latter approach, using carefully judged dynamics and taking a measured approach to expression to produce a flowing rendition in which the music took pole position.

Moving across Europe from Austria to France, via the Italian riviera, Vizi took a different approach to the next two pieces, Voiles and Les collines d’Anacapri by Debussy. Although inherently expressive, they require yet further espressivo from the pianist, and there is plenty of scope to impose one’s own interpretations. Vizi certainly made his own mark on the pieces in that respect, though I felt that Les collines was the more successfully executed of the two.

We were then transported to Spain, home of so many well-known dance varieties. Manuel de Falla’s Fantasia Baetica is a curious piece: it utilises and builds on the rhythms of the flamenco, an integral part of Andalusian culture. This, along with its flexible structure, gives it a sort of gypsy-romantic feel, with the music’s next move and mood being impossible to predict. Here, I felt that Vizi’s playing was a little too restrained – I would have liked to have seen him embrace the wildness of the piece a little more, and perhaps to have picked up the tempo a little more at the start. That said, the abrupt end was pleasingly vigorous and fiery.

Keeping with the dance theme, but taking up the tango and hopping across the pond to Argentina, we were treated to Piazzolla’s Tango Rhapsody. Along with his Libertango, it is regarded as a classic. Written just a few days after the death of his father, it is a portrait of grief: the music oscillates between highly energetic passages and the more doleful, languid form of tango. The various moods and strands presented in this piece work better in orchestrated form, but Vizi made sure to draw these out as far as possible. A second rhapsody followed: Gershwin’s beloved Rhapsody in Blue (in my opinion, another piece that suffers at the hands of its piano reduction). Vizi made it a very enjoyable piece to listen to, even if, at one point, there was a slightly awkward hiatus as he appeared to forget what happened next – forgivable, given that he performed the entire programme by heart.

For a relatively intimate and small-scale festival, It’s all about Piano! managed to pack an enormous range of events into one weekend, from jazz concerts to children’s workshops. Ferenc Vizi’s recital was one of the more conventional events on offer, but it offered a well-judged programme in a splendid setting, with some delightful piano playing to boot.

***11