Live Review - Renara Akhhoundova: Gift

Posted on: 22 November 2011 by Alexander Hay

A wonderful evening of music ensures at St. James' Church, Piccadilly, as Renara plays the Ol' Joanna to great effect

Tickling the ivories

If nothing else, you couldn't accuse pianist Renara Akhhoundova of going for any old venue for her concert. St James' Church in Piccadilly was designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren, and like his even bigger, more famous work, St Pauls, it had impressive acoustics and a sort of sweeping grandeur that went well with the big piano set up before the pews. Quite a crowd came out to see the concert too, though the press table almost didn't let me in after the list insisted my surname was actually 'May'.

Renara herself has an interesting background, being part Russian, part Azerbaijani, and now residing in Paris. When she finally and diffidently emerged from a small side door stage left, it seemed almost like an anti-climax. Picking up a microphone, she gave a little introduction but the volume was low and she was, in fairness, speaking in what was probably her fourth language, so all I could make out was an apologetic 'I am not a speaker, but a musician' before she sat down to play.

And she was right. For the next 90 minutes, Renara played beautifully. It is a difficult business to describe music, but here the compositions were long for a reason, being deep and varied, but also moving from hypnotically soothing to electrifying and introspective, often with just a shift in tempo.

One thing I noticed was how the music seemed to make my mind wander, taking me through the many thoughts I usually ought to have, but seldom have the time to ponder them. I was falling under the spell, if you'll forgive the cliché, and yet there was so much going on in the music itself that I fought to focus on what was whisking me away in the first place. Music is meant to stimulate, after all, and Akhoundova was certainly doing that.

It seemed to end too soon, despite lasting for an hour and a half, but the standing ovations had already begun midway through. At the end, Renara took up the microphone once again and said she hoped that the roles would be reversed, and we would inspire her in turn as she hoped she had inspired us. Then she began an encore that got the audience up on its feet once more before she slipped away, diffident as before, through that same innocuous little door.

The only complaint was care of the oaf sitting behind me who sneered that Renara should 'stick to playing the piano' rather than trying to explain her music in English that didn't match his giddyingly high standards. This was akin to slagging off the chef after he earned a Michelin Star simply because one of the commas in the menu should have been a semi-colon.

The sense of entitlement and arrogance of the man and his companion, who was moaning about how 'intolerant' the English were becoming (she coming from that fortress of tolerance known as Australia) reminded me only too well that it's often the audience who get in the way of the music, but it hardly mattered when compared to the wonders performed on the piano that night.

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Alexander Hay

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