Marian Poole, Piano Teacher and Music Critic.

Stephen de Pledge, Marama Hall 5 September 2009

A small audience at Marama Hall this Saturday heard Stephen De Pledge give even well-known classics the benefit of fresh articulation. Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata was saved from melodrama by a light Romantic hand and extended phrasing which cleared the air, as it were, between the abrupt mood swings. Similarly Brahms’ “Two Rhapsodies” Opus 79 was crisply articulated, highlighting the dramatic interplay between sections. Debussy‘s “Reflets dans l’eau”, Hommage à “Rameau” and “Mouvement” from “Images” (1905) create a feeling of repose. De Pledge’s presentation of wind and stones wrinkling the water, the honouring of the stately melancholy of French composer, Rameau, and the adrenalin in perpetual movement retained a brightness and wit.

Bill Mayerl does, as De Pledge said, deserve to be better known. Having a love of syncopation Mayerl was apparently unable or unwilling to translate it into something acceptable to music’s institutional echelons. Instead he developed his own school and lent his considerable composition and technical skills to the theatre, film and dance halls of the 1930s. “Shallow Waters” is a melancholic ragtime soliloquy derived from dimly lit American bars. “Railroad Rhythm” is founded on the infectious pulse of machinery and horn and laidback precision.

De Pledge gave three “landscape” works he commissioned in 2008 from New Zealanders. Psathas reflects upon the faceted meanings of “Sleeper”. Propelled energies communicate a desire to keep life simple. Ross Harris’ “Piano Prelude” studies harmonic resonances. Experimenting with an acoustic rather than electroacoustic instrument and benefitting from human interpretation, “Prelude” intrigues but doesn’t always sustain the audience. Reverberations are given the luxury of time to dissolve and moments of brightness and clean silence provide dramatic structure. Jenny McLeod’s “Landscape Prelude” experiments celebrating the juxtaposition of beauty and threat which distinguishes our bush. Naivety is short-lived. Birdsong, the lonely communication frees up the overriding dissonance.

Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7 in B Flat (1942) brought De Pledge’s wonderful display of intelligent interpretation and technical virtuosity to a magnificently wild close. The work showed Prokofiev as Shostakovich’s contemporary. There is a shared fiendish anger, rollicking but tainted burlesque and fragile melodies which snatch at naivety. However the last movement rages through a exhilaratingly destabilized almost cacophonous crashing syncopation.