Twinkle, twinkle little star

WONDERFUL TO see Bangalore's small Parsi community keeping its flag aloft, filling the Alliance Francaise for Neville Bharucha's recent piano recital. Known for their partiality to Western classical music, Parsis, along with Christians (Goans and Mangaloreans, for example), have done much to keep it alive in this country, so it was no surprise that the young star of the evening was a Parsi. What is surprising is that while other children his age (just 10) spend all their free time, energy, and interests on video games, television or sport, he willingly devotes it to music, performing and composing. His delightful performance was surely an inspiration for the young musicians in the audience, and the pride of all local Parsis.

Neville has been taught from the age of three by his father, Zarir, who does not force him to do exams, believing enjoyment is more important than competition or grading. He has also ensured that Neville receives plenty of exposure to performances via videos and CDs, which has fostered in Neville sensitivity to and a genuine feel for music. The fact that he appears so "normal", still charmingly childlike (rather than insufferably precocious as some young prodigies can be) is also testament to his parents' sensible and balanced nurturing of his talent.

The programme, generously given to raise funds for Bangalore School of Music's building fund, had an impressive range for one so young, from the complexities of Bach to modern composers. It was a bonus that one got to hear pieces by famous composers, no less delectable for being shorter and lighter, but which professional performers toss off only as encores.

Starting with a crisp rendering of Bach's Invention #14 followed by Sinfonia #1, his remarkable confidence was immediately manifest. The Bach showed him capable of the technique that composer needs, without being merely mechanical, always a potential danger. His feeling for the lyrical soon followed in his expressive playing of two Chopin Preludes, Clementi's Sonatina op.36 #3 (with its exquisite slower movement) and other dulcet pieces such as Schubert's Valse Sentimentale and Elgar's Salut D'amour, as unexpectedly pretty as the Schubert, all executed with remarkable feeling.

The fact that Neville has an ability to recover from the occasional lapse or stumble (as seen in the Beethoven for example) bespeaks his lack of nervousness and good performance temperament. His tempi were sometimes inconsistent, particularly noticeable in Beethoven's Sonata #20, the most difficult and sustained piece in the programme. The first movement was a bit fast and the second sounded too rushed.

Counterbalancing that was his good sense of rhythm and beat, as he capably differentiated between various dance forms: Chopin's Mazurkas, Sebastian Yradier's tango, Bartok's Romanian Folk Dances 1 -5 (with their often Oriental flavour), Moszowski's Spanish Dance and Aguste Durand's Waltz. But there was sometimes an imbalance of elements as in the Mazurkas, which concentrated on metronomic rhythm, robbing them of their more mellifluous qualities, and he was too vigorous to evoke La Paloma.

The programme was interspersed with Neville's own compositions, based not so much on theoretical knowledge as on his feel for music.

He showed perceptive awareness of styles, for example using the left-hand quavers so typical of Mozart in his Twinkle Variations (though the programme notes erroneously mentioned that Mozart had invented the tune; it was already a well-known nursery piece on which Mozart wrote his Variations). His inventiveness was apparent in the various technical components he employed, such as the frenetic toccata in the Witches Dance. His willingness to tackle composition and the sparks of individuality he already shows, promise much as he develops in theory, practice and experience.

Neville is now at a stage when he would benefit greatly from professional tutelage. Without wishing to undervalue his father's role as mentor, there are aspects of Neville's technique that need more intensive guidance, attention and correction, such as over-pedalling (particularly in the Bach), more shaping and modulation, and his forte playing which requires more refinement and finesse.

Fortunately, he has a head start in that he already displays good musical discernment, which is more difficult to cultivate.

In comparison, technique is more easily acquired, provided the teacher does not quash the most valuable qualities that father has fostered in son: a genuine love of music, performance confidence and enthusiasm for playing and composing, which come when no pressure is applied, and all of which were in evidence in the refreshing recital.


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