1000 Notes and 1 Arabian Knight
On the evening of 12th November the Nour Festival summoned a young genie to the Leighton House. The oil lamp revealed the 21 year-old Syrian pianist Riyad Nicolas who instantly infused the hall with his interpretation of Schumann's Fantasiestücke. A young impassioned Florestan produced a majestic sound particularly in the Aufschwung, and maintained rhythmic clarity in the whimsical Grillen.
The next work took the spellbound audience on a journey through Spain via El Puerto and Triana, from Isaac Albeniz' masterpiece Iberia. The romantic mood gave way to a zesty zapateado in these lively dances of Arabic origins.
In the second half of the concert, Riyad lured us south of the Gibraltar Strait to his homeland, Syria, via Zaid Jabri's ‘Some Words'. The intimate setting painted as much by Lord Leighton's Flaming June as by the pianist, had the audience motionless. Riyad proved to be at home with the modern idiom as he maneuvered between the soundboard and keyboard.
Next, Dia Al Succari employed a more tonal sound world. The last movement of his Syrian Suite, entitled Dabke (foot stamping), bore a close relationship to Abeniz's Triana. What at first glance appeared to be an eclectic programme proved to be a tightly knit selection of works. Riyad explained the relationship between the European Classical (especially Spanish) and Arabic music, at first with his words, but then most strikingly through the conviction of his performance.
Further, the Nocturne by Sulhi Al Wadi provided an example of sincere lyricism masterfully expressed by the pianist. The concert ended with Walid Al Hajjar's Etude Revolutionaire. As the title suggests, this is a modern parody of Chopin's Op.10 No.12. Make no mistake though, the work poses serious technical demands on the performer and includes a heartfelt middle section. To say that Riyad was up to the task would be an understatement! He seamlessly made his way up and down the keyboard with great panache without ever losing suspense and arriving at every climax with aplomb.
Young virtuosos like Riyad are the ones that hold the future of classical music in their hands. Here is a new voice capable of reaching new audiences with a daring programme and exuberant artistry. Riyad Nicolas, a name to remember!