Ashley Fripp: Piano
Ashley Fripp first came to my attention via a 2013 disc containing polished though small-scale interpretations of both Chopin concertos (Spektral). Judging from this solo recital, the pianist has become more assertive and dynamic without sacrificing his core lyricism and sensitivity. The Prelude of Bach’s A minor English Suite may not match Perahia or Schiff for voice-leading finesse, yet one cannot help but notice Fripp’s exuberance and awareness of Bach’s cross-rhythms. The Allemande is suavely moulded, if a tad sedate and square for my taste, and he similarly holds back in the sublime Sarabande, yet he balances the Courante’s imitative lines well, and decidedly perks up for the Bourées and the Gigue.
At first Fripp’s resolutely steady Chopin Berceuse seems reticent and understated, yet repeated hearings reveal a thoughtful economy of expression by way of subtle inflections and tonal gradations. He doesn’t sing out the Barcarolle’s expansive cantabiles to full effect, although he pays unusual attention to the central section’s détaché accompanying chords (from around 5'00" into the piece). The coda’s extraordinary polyphonic layering and harmonic genius are undermined by Fripp’s slightly unsettled and fidgety phrasing. I wish the pianist would have fidgeted more in the Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, which offers little more than suave, even-tempered and frankly uneventful pianism.
However, Thomas Adès’s madcap concert paraphrase based on his controversial first opera Powder Her Face inspires Fripp no end. He plays up the second section’s sudden mood swings with vivid character and a wide palette of articulations. What is more, Fripp easily dispatches anything that Adès throws at him, such as lightning-quick dissonant runs in opposite directions, or those momentary allusions to Richard Strauss’s post-Wagnerian counterpoint at full tilt. He also makes light work out of Adès’s rather upholstered approach to tango-writing. I suspect that the world of new music is where Fripp’s heart truly resides.