Fortunately, the next item on the docket, Fauré’s Barcarolle No. 1 in A minor Op. 26, was more firmly rooted in the Owen patch. Its opening bars were played beautifully, even hypnotically, and the performance was charged with the peculiar clarity that arises when a performer and his material get one another. The situation persisted during a second Fauré barcarolle, No. 5 in F# minor Op. 66, but however beguiling the composition’s lines might have been, the evening’s standout was unquestionably Debussy’s Images, Series I. It’s a remarkable piece, and Owen seemed to take particular delight in its pentatonic scale’s wide intervals, which allowed him to exhibit a definite grasp of Debussean dissonance, jazz and all. There’s a very strong storytelling component to Owen’s playing that’s highly evocative, and terribly well suited to Debussy’s interest in creating a sonic mise-en-scène. The light, shimmering quality of Images’ first movement, Reflets dans l’eau, was beautifully rendered, and provided a terrific foil to the piece’s second movement, Hommage à Rameau, whose stagnant moodiness was thoughtfully evoked by Owen and was, quite frankly, enough in itself to make me glad I’d bought a ticket.
The programme was rounded out by a ripsnorting take on Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel Op. 24, a good choice as it offered equal doses of levity, substance and pyrotechnics, which is just what an audience likes in a showpiece. I know this because the crowd went bananas after Owen had hit the final Bb major chord, and in the midst of all the hooting and hollering one could hear people vowing to be on hand for the pianist’s next Wigmore go ‘round which, for those of you who like to keep track of these sorts of things, will be on May 30th,when he’ll accompany Ed Dusinberre of Takács Quartet fame through a couple of numbers by Franck and Mozart.