Mark Viner is becoming increasingly well-known for his championing of unfamiliar piano works. He began playing the piano at the age of eleven and two years later was awarded a scholarship to the Purcell School of Music where he studied with Tessa Nicholson for five years.
He then won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where he studied with Niel Immelman for six years. He graduated with both first class honours in a Bachelor of Music degree and the Sarah Mundlak Memorial Prize for Piano for having gained the highest mark in the year for his final recital and, following a bursary from the Countess of Munster Musical Trust, a distinction in Master of Performance.
After winning First Prize at the Alkan-Zimmerman International Piano Competition in Athens in 2012, his début recital there was hailed by the press as the most important musical event of 2012. He has subsequently performed at London’s St. James’s Piccadilly, St. John’s Smith Square and Wigmore Hall, and in Oxford at the Holywell Music Room, the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building and the Sheldonian Theatre where he made his début with the Oxford Philomusica Orchestra under the baton of Marios Papadopoulos. He also performed for H.R.H. Prince Charles.
Invitations to festivals have included the Raritäten der Klaviermusik Husum and ProPiano in Hamburg, Indian Summer in Slovakia, and the Cheltenham Music Festival and Oxford Lieder Festival. Radio broadcasts have included recitals on Deutschlandfunk and interviews on BBC Radio Oxford. Aside from a busy schedule of teaching and giving concerts,
Mark is also a published writer. His advocacy of the music of Charles-Valentin Alkan has led to his election as Chairman of the Alkan Society; and his exploration of neglected piano literature has led to a commercial recording of the music of Sigismond Thalberg.
Alkan: 12 Etudes, Op 35 review – Viner rises to Alkan’s extraordinary challenges
5 / 5 stars
Wed 13 Dec 2017 16.40 GMT
The piano music of Charles-Valentin Alkan is no longer regarded as the preserve of a handful of zealous specialists. Over the last two decades a whole raft of young pianists have emerged keen to take on the challenges presented by the French composer’s keyboard writing, which is some of the most demanding in 19th-century music. The Piano Classics label has already documented a number of those exceptional performances, most notably in the revelatory series of discs from Vincenzo Maltempo, and now come two further additions to that series. One of them, played by Giovanni Bellucci, is devoted to Alkan’s early works – the three Concerti da Camera Op 10, and the first ever recording of the Six Pieces Op 16. The other, from the young British pianist Mark Viner, is a complete performance of one of his most substantial and remarkable cycles, the 12 Etudes in all the major keys, Op 35.
[Alkan’s C major Presto tests a pianist’s tremolo ability almost to destruction]
First published in 1847, the Etudes follow a sequence of ascending fourths, beginning with the deceptively straightforward Etude in A, and ending with the piece in E. The preludes and studies by Chopin (who was Alkan’s neighbour in Paris in the 1840s) and the first versions of what became Liszt’s Transcendental Studies are the obvious models for some of the piano writing, but Alkan frequently pushes on into territory unknown even to those composers. The C major Presto tests a pianist’s tremolo ability almost to destruction; the F major piece is a ferocious Allegro Barbaro that anticipates Bartók’s work of the same name by more than 60 years; and two other pieces – in E flat and G flat – are built more like descriptive tone poems than studies, though they were composed before Liszt even began his groundbreaking set of symphonic poems.
Viner shows he is an impressively unflappable interpreter of this sometimes extraordinary music. His playing is as beguiling in the lyrical straightforwardness of the A major Etude as it is controlled in the weirdly manic counterpoint of the C sharp piece, or commanding in the bravura explosions that regularly punctuate the cycle. His playing is never showy; he emphasises that these are profound explorations of early romantic sensibility first and extreme technical challenges second, and that is a totally convincing way of dealing with some of the most remarkable piano music of its time.