Eduardo Frias, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 3, 2017
A disappointingly small audience turned out for what proved to be a well-played evening of contemporary Spanish piano music, about which, however, I had some reservations.
Eduardo Frias has made himself a champion of the piano music of Jorge Grundman, whose complete works for piano (up to 2016) were played on this occasion. He has worked side-by-side with the composer on developing this music, and he has also recently recorded them on Sony Classical.
Mr. Frias has an uncannily beautiful sound, especially at the softer dynamics, piano all the way down to ppppp. He never loses expressivity, and understands the nature of rubato. At the few louder moments in the program however, his sound grew strident. He used scores for the concert, yet did not deliver a “note-perfect” rendition of all the works, especially in those rare instances when the music got a bit rambunctious, breaking out of its gauzy moderato softness.
The music of Mr. Grundman was previously unknown to me, and since this is a rare and precious event in the life of a busy reviewer, I was looking forward to hearing it. He calls himself a “music writer” rather than a composer, whatever that means; and he has written chamber music and operas, besides this piano output.
Unfortunately, the piano music all sounded extremely similar: poignant, lyrical, and mournful, but too often with predictable formulae and cliché gestures. There were a few melodic moments that were compelling, but the main interest is in the harmonic changes. Mr. Grundman sounds like a neo-romantic composer combined with a minimalist (perhaps with more heart, but less craft).
In his mission statement, taken from his own website, he states: “I am sorry because there is nothing new in the music I write and, moreover, it was not even my intention. This might be the reason why I prefer to say that I consider myself a writer of music more than a composer. I just try to tell stories through the music narrative. I do this in the simplest, almost naive way possible. However, if there is something that leads me when I start writing a piece, it is to avoid communicating something tiring and boring. I want people to find my music sentimental and moving and also, as far as possible, to fancy listening to it again. I am talking about being accessible to the listener and the performers. In other words, I do not write for composers.”
I agree that he accomplishes nearly everything he said. The music is indeed sentimental, and sometimes quite moving. I just don’t feel there is enough strength on the compositional side to make it enduring. His justifications are numerous, all in this direction, and he claims humility as his start- and endpoint, but that seems like a defense. (Critics have been wrong many times before!) His titles verge on maudlin, though they must come from a very sincere place (Who Remembers Beauty When Sadness Knocks at Your Door? and We Are the Forthcoming Past).
Despite the attenuated Alberti-bass figure in Mozartiana, there was very little of either homage or even pastiche in it. The same was also the case for Haydiniana. Only in Chopiniana was the overt shadow of Chopin’s Etude Op. 10, No. 12 (“Revolutionary”) evoked, a bit heavy-handedly. These three pieces comprise the “Genius Suite for Sara.”
Of the four Piano Fantasies, I found Will Not Remove My Hope to be the most successful. The Lullaby for the Son of a Pianist had an appealing wistfulness, making ample use of Mr. Frias’s gorgeous whisper-soft playing.
For me, and I’m certainly willing to admit that I was not on the wavelength of this composer, Mr. Frias should lavish his talent on music that is of higher quality. From the first notes he played, I was immediately reminded of some of the sonorities of Giya Kancheli or Arvo Pärt. I wish him success in his performing career.