By Dr Francis Fawkes
Last month, 18-year-old Tussah Heera gave two piano recitals hosted by the Nassau Music Society. One was held at the St Andrew’s Presbyterian Kirk, the other at St Paul’s Church Hall.
Her motivation was to give back to the Bahamas what she had received during her two years of study with myself from 2006 to 2007.
Tussah’s eminent teacher at present is Professor John Perry at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music. He did a wonderful job in helping to prepare her programme.
She returned to Nassau this year with an observable quantum leap in her development.
Indeed, her first concert was attended not only by members of the general public, but by students, teachers and other professionals. They wanted to know the secrets of her great success as an award-winning artist at the national and international level.
Although diminutive in size, Tussah displayed dazzling virtuosity and consummate artistry in a technically very demanding programme.
Her memory was faultless and down to the last of her encores her energy level was undiminished.
When she steps out on stage, her wonderful mystique is immediately apparent and when she plays members of the audience report feeling euphoric.
Tussah began the first half of her piano recital with the first movement, the Allegro assai of Beethoven’s Appassionata, Opus 57.
The title comes from the Italian word for passionate. This gargantuan sonata is over 20 minutes, and one wonders if she could have started with something less taxing.
However, Tussah proved herself justified. She begun with the ominous opening theme in octaves and from there displayed skills that kept the audience on the edge of their seats.
She told her story, coordinating beautiful melodies amidst a backdrop of eighth note and sixteenth note triplets. There were also precisely played arpeggios coruscating up and down the piano. She captured Beethoven’s mood shifts in soft passages and sudden fortissimo outbursts of power.
Her loud sonorities were explosive but never percussive. Her playing is digital and clarity pervaded throughout the whole sonata.
The second movement, Andante con moto consisted of a serene theme.
At the beginning, she could have emphasised the melody a little more above the chordal accompaniment. This theme was answered by a series of variations, beautifully treated by a sensitive touch and musical ear. She artfully negotiated all the intricacies of the faster passages beautifully.
Tussah then played the third movement of the sonata, Allegro ma non troppo, introduced by two wake-up diminished seventh chords, one soft and the other shockingly loud.
Then begun a movement of near perpetual motion of alternating melodies in both hands.
Tussah brings these themes out brilliantly with an even but desperate left and right hand accompaniments, emphasizing the composer’s temperament. She showed the audience that she can demonstrate the impetuosity and the impulsiveness in Beethoven’s character.
Then she begins the Presto with two bold resolute chords, leading with volcanic flurry of sixteenth notes, consummating with a furious descending broken chord passage. This ends on two tragic, resounding F minor chords.
In the first concert the astonishment of the audience led to a standing ovation even before the intermission. One listener saw in her the likes of a young Martha Argerich (considered one of the greatest pianists of the second half of the 20th century).
Tussah is musically quite convincing in the Appassionata, Opus 57. In the three movements her continuity of thought was apparent.
She managed to weave this epic narrative into a logical and seamless tapestry, held together by her musical intelligence, which is quite mature for her age.
She received many fantastic compliments afterwards.
After a ten-minute intermission, Tussah returned with a different style in the jazz etude, the Toccatina Opus 40, No 3 by the Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin.
A toccatina is a small scale toccata designed to show off technical skill, and Tussah more than met the challenge.
These jazz etudes are very popular among the young pianists and there are so many different interpretations. Tussah’s interpretation is more like that of the composer.
The tempo was strong, not too fast or too slow. It was brisk with clear and precise phrasing. It was also very metric with marked jazz accents. I believe that she captured the composer’s intentions. Following this was the Schubert /Liszt, “Auf Dem Wasser zu Singen (To be sung on the water”).
The player began with a repetitive soft descending figure that is imitative of shimmering waves. Even though it was continuous, it was not monotonous.
Tussah’s style is natural and unaffected and the warm lyricism of Schubert is heard in the left hand’s plaintive melody.
This same melody is transferred to the right hand in which Tussah manages to demarcate against the wave-like configurations.
Eventually this melody became tempestuous in the right hand and Tussah rises to the occasion in bringing it out with overwhelming sonorities in a Liszt like manner.
Later, it subsides in into a gentle calmness. The performer had all the highs and lows of the composer represented in her delivery.
Another of the Schubert/Liszt transcriptions was “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (Gretchen at the spinning wheel). It is a pianistic transcription of a song from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust”. Gretchen is at the spinning wheel, anxiously awaiting the arrival of her admirer, Faust.
Tussah again creates through a repetitive motif the soft imitation of a spinning wheel. The melodies, unlike the previous piece, stay in the right hand. She shows her control by not letting the left hand overwhelm the melody. She climaxes at the right point and then gets softer toward the end. In these two stylistically similar pieces, Tussah shows she has a wide dynamic range and the ability to make these two similar pieces two distinct musical entities.
Tussah culminated her programme with the Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Paganini Opus 35, Book 2. These 14 variations are based on a familiar melody from the 24 Caprices of Paganini. This work, according to Brahms, is an etude. One can see this for it is an artistic study in double note playing – double thirds, double sixths and double octaves.
Her effortless and swift execution of these devices proved a flawless technique.
In her St Paul’s Church Hall rendition, instead of taking it at her usual relentless pace, she discreetly decided to rubato the octaves in the first variation, and the fourteenth variation was more deliberate and grander. This was to her artistic and technical advantage. I thought both performances were very good, but the second performance was beautifully enhanced by her discreet flexibility.
At last, Tussah finished her recital which was a veritable tour de force. It is remarkable that a teenager could give a performance like this without showing any signs of mental or physical fatigue. To top it off, she played two of her own works as encores.
What beautiful and wistful gems they were. “The Ode to Bach” and “The Dove” were appropriate mood-relaxing pieces to bring the day to a close. In these two pieces, melodies reminiscent of Rachmaninoff were heard. Her cantabile and use of the tempo rubato were noteworthy.
My own personal opinion of this young Renaissance woman is that she has developed into a formidable artist. She plays each composer in his own respective style.
Tussah can play Mozart and Haydn convincingly, as she can perform Chopin, Liszt or Brahms impressively. Nevertheless, she certainly did exhaust all superlatives in both recitals.
The second recital also received a standing ovation and was well-attended. There were people who turned up for both concerts, and for many in the audience it was an ineffable experience.