Fazil Say is undoubtedly one of the world’s most extraordinary pianists. A fact he effortlessly displayed as he returned to the Menuhin Festival for a third time to perform a programme celebrating shades and moods of night at the church in Saanen.
In 1986, the composer Aribert Reimann, was touring Turkey. After a visit to Ankara’s conservatory, Reimann told the American pianist David Levine: “You absolutely must hear him, this boy plays like a devil.” The boy he was talking about was Fazil Say.
And yet, there was nothing devilish about the programme Say chose to perform at the church in Saanen as part of Gstaad’s renown Menuhin Festival. At least on paper. The Clair de Lune programme promised to explore the shades and moods of night via celebrated pieces by Chopin, Debussy, and Beethoven. In itself a promising line-up. But Say’s performance went beyond simply delivering.
As he worked his way through the programme, Say’s musical genius came increasingly to the fore. He began with a calm and airy rendition of three of Frédéric Chopin’s Nocturnes. Say relished every note and at times seemed almost surprised by the beauty of the music he produced.
Next came an eclectic and contrasting selection of short pieces by Claude Debussy. Beginning with the much loved Clair de Lune from Suite Bergamasque followed by six pieces from his Prélude sequence, including the playful Minstrels and the elegant and sprightly Danseuses de Delphes. Say bathed in the pleasure of playing and at times appeared to be conducting himself with energetic hand gestures and loud hums punctuating the music. The first half of the concert felt contemplative, suggesting the stillness of nightfall, and the gentle rise of the moon. There were few hints of the deluge that Say would unleash after the intermission.
Playing Ludwig van Beethoven’s lengthier piano sonatas Moonlight (Quasi una fantasia No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op.27, Nr.2) and Apassionata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, Say expressed the full spectrum of vivid emotions that might come to pass as night-time unfolds. And just when the storm seemed to have passed and Say’s crescendo appeared to have peaked, the audience was granted two truly magnificent encores. The first, an intriguing improvisation where Say plucked piano strings with one hand while playing the keys with the other, displaying his immense creative talent. The second, a terrific interpretation of Gershwin’s Summertime, which had Say dancing at the piano and the audience completely enraptured. The standing ovation was absolutely deserved, it was the perfect end to a summer night out at the Menuhin Festival.
For those of you who would like to enjoy Fazil Say’s most recent Menuhin Festival performance from the comfort of your our screen, register under gstaaddigitalfestival.ch to replay the concert. Your free Gstaad Digital Festival registration will also grant you exclusive access to recordings of other Festival concerts as well as back-stage clips.
Anne Christine Kempton