A capacity crowd in an unusually sombre mood converged at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on Sunday, July 18 to hear what was billed as Eshantha Peiris’ first solo piano recital in Sri Lanka.
Of course many of us had heard him before when he had made guest appearances and left us in no doubt of his talent. But a solo recital is something else, and so it was that the 24- year -old was greeted by loud and long applause as he made a grand entrance wearing a dark, formal suit and a serious demeanour.
Eshantha’s twilight recital impressed from beginning to end. Evident throughout was his control and the care with which he had planned his programme, playing music by Bach, Debussy and Manuel de Falla, a four-part arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s L’Histoire du Tango, as well as music by Sri Lankan composers Rohan de Livera and Dinuk Wijeratne. Each piece was enhanced by a tastefully presented visual projection on a giant back-drop.
Tutored by Ramya de Livera (piano) and Ananda Dabare (violin) in Sri Lanka, and Eduardos Halim (classical piano), Marc Consoli and Mark Adamo (classical composition), Ira Newborn (composition for film) and Jim McNeely (jazz) in the United Sates of America, Eshantha displayed considerable prowess and range, particularly for one so young.
The concert opened with the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach’s formidable Italian Concerto (1685-1750). The lively first and third movements featured both solo and orchestral textures alternating in ritornello-style which contrasted with the slow melody of the second movement, showcasing Eshantha’s gift as a natural pianist par excellence.
This was seamlessly followed by Claude Debussy’s Images. Eshantha’s fresh, vital and undeniably exciting interpretation took us to another plane where we could almost feel the interplay of light and water in the wistful musical notes suspended all around us.
This led to Spanish-born composer Manuel de Fallas’s Fantasia Baetica (1876-1046), the characteristic Spanish flavour evoked through the use of chords giving the piece its flamenco melodies and harmonic structures. Eshantha’s tempos were extremely brisk, his fingers fleet and precise – an approach that continued to work wonderfully well.
The second segment began with Dinuk Wijeratne’s Colour Study in Rupaktaal, inspired by the form of a typical Hindustani solo Tabla improvisation whilst simultaneously employing a Western harmonic language to colour in the composition. Reappearing after a short interval in bold red satin shirt, Eshantha gave a powerful and skilful rendition of this technically demanding work where the change of mood and colour were vivid and fitted into an astutely organized conception of the work as a whole.
The penultimate offering was an exciting selection of Astor Piazzolla’s L’Histoire du Tango (1921-1992).
Eshantha displayed a musical vigour that made this piece startlingly effective, where he stressed its musical rather than spectacular side. It appeared to be a murderous challenge for the wrist and hand but Eshantha pulled it off with ease and finesse whilst maintaining a fine balance of romantic contrast and a technique that never departed from the immaculate.
The grand finale was Rohan de Livera’s The Nokia Variations – composed especially for this night’s recital Eshantha’s presentation was a flawless, fascinating performance. The scale of relationship between delicate passages and those of big, rich sonority was always kept in balance and the composition emerged as a deeply satisfying panorama of contrasting aural experiences.
At the end of the scheduled programme no one wanted Eshantha to leave. Ovation after ovation was finally encored by Beethoven’s hauntingly beautiful Moonlight Sonata - an elegant testimony to a major artiste of talent, intelligence, technique and the bravura temperament.
This young musician brought to life not only a harvest of refreshing repertoire but an exciting musical intelligence combined with brilliant technique.