Key Pianists Presents Sara Davis Buechner in Review

Key Pianists Presents Sara Davis Buechner in Review

Key Pianists presents Sara Davis Buechner, piano,
Recital of Japanese Piano Music and Ibert’s Histoires
with guest artist, Yayoi Hirano, Noh/Kabuki Mime and Mask Dancer
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
June 1, 2017

 

Sara Davis Buechner needs little introduction within the world of pianists. She has enjoyed a high- profile career for several decades, launched in part by numerous major prizes, and she has played with many of the world’s finest orchestras and in the most prominent concert venues. Her biography states that her repertoire of more than 100 piano concertos ranges “from A (Albeniz) to Z (Zimbalist),” and I can attest that what is in between – along with her discography – is a tantalizing array of discoveries and treasures.

While it is no secret that Ms. Buechner’s repertoire ranges from the mainstream to the exotic and underappreciated, including such names as Friml, Suesse, and Rózsa, nothing prepared me for the power and originality of her Japanese-themed program at Weill Hall. It went far beyond what one might expect as a doffing of the hat to Japan (2017 being her 30th year as a Yamaha artist). She plumbed the depths of a pianistic goldmine that has simply remained largely untapped here in the US. The works of Kouji Taku (1904-1983), Yoshinao Nakada (1923-2000), and Yukiko Nishimura (b. 1969) were revelations.

The Japanese works on the program that Ms. Buechner did not discover or rediscover, she commissioned, namely the first work Ten Etudes for Piano (2010-2011), by Yukiko Nishimura (a pianist in her own right). From the very first Étude, Snowy Sky, one was mesmerized by the kaleidoscope of colors, shimmering evocations that the pianist projected with crystalline sound, vivid tonal imagination and exceptional control. There emerged a definite kinship with works of the French Impressionists here, and yet this music was distinctly Japanese and bracingly new.

Ms. Buechner is capable of every shade on the musical spectrum and played each successive etude somehow more stunningly than the last. The set of ten pieces demanded nearly a half hour of pianistic wizardry of all kinds, but Ms. Buechner never flagged, and I’m happy to report that the listeners did not either. Fanfare dazzled with its energy and brilliance. Windmill intrigued with its tone-painting, augmented in sections by percussive knocking under the keyboard. Drops drew out more of the quieter colorist in Ms. Buechner, and the dance-like Hide and Seek was feisty and rambunctious through fistfuls of notes and hand-crossings. There were elements of modern jazz and minimalism apparent, but no piece in ten could be stylistically pigeonholed.

There was added fun in observing specific pianistic challenges as well. While Tango, for example, was wildly virtuosic all around, Daydreaming featured left hand alone, and Rock Candy exploited the right hand alone (the much less common solo hand). Harvest Moon, a transcription of one of the composer’s orchestral works, capped off the set with exuberance. These pieces will undoubtedly attract many pianistic daredevils and musicians, though it is difficult to imagine Ms. Buechner’s renditions being surpassed. She has, in a sense, created these pieces as well as inspiring them, and she is one with them. In the words of W. B. Yeats, “Who can tell the dancer from the dance?”

If the influence of jazz was prevalent in Ms. Nishimura’s pieces, it was even more the case in Variations on a Theme by Poulenc by Kouji Taku (1904-1983) a classical pianist (and student of Alfred Cortot) who had a lifetime of experience with French cabaret style. Ms. Buechner’s own excellent notes tell us that the Taku work was published in a 1960 Zen-On anthology and had almost no pianists perform it since its composition in 1957, except for Arthur Loesser in 1961, and, of course, herself. It is a fantastic (re-)discovery based on Poulenc’s well-loved Mouvement Perpetuel No. 1, a sweetly nonchalant theme with an ambling B-flat bass, a perfect point from which Taku could launch into an ostinato variation, tango, blues, and then samba-like flights of fancy. What a fantastic finale to the first half – bravissima!

As hinted above, a French tone to the evening was never far, but it was overt, of course, in the inclusion of Histoires (“Stories), the marvelous set of ten character pieces by French composer Jacques Ibert (1890-1962). Each of the ten miniatures was paired – incorporating the Japanese theme – with a performance by guest Kabuki mime and mask dancer, Yayoi Hirano, wearing traditional masks that she had created. One almost forgot about the pianist, playing from score (as she did, understandably, for the entire evening), with a string of varied masks poised on the piano lid; the music, however, was never forgotten. Ms. Buechner presented the “stories” vividly through her sensitive playing, as did Ms. Hirano with her movements. It was an intriguing conception, even to this listener who loves this music by itself.

This revelatory evening closed with Sonata for Piano (1949-1969) by Yoshinao Nakada, known in the US chiefly for some popular student miniatures, it seems. The Sonata is a large, complex, neo-Romantic work that represented a great struggle for the composer (as one might surmise from the composition timespan), and it will frankly take this listener a bit more listening to fully embrace. The composer, an ex-kamikaze pilot who survived World War II, poured his torment into it – that was quite clear – and moments were extremely stirring. I am grateful to Ms. Buechner for my first hearing of it, as well for first hearings of Taku and Nishimura, and I hope for more.

Loud ovations were met with some endearing quips from the pianist about encores being an unnecessary delay before the first martini – plus a poem and an original haiku by the pianist about the NY Mets’ recent performance (translated). I wouldn’t know about the Mets, but the performance I attended was phenomenal! Long may Ms. Buechner continue to find and commission great treasures to play for us! She has already given much to music, but her Japanese repertoire may become the most important contribution yet. She is well-situated to do more, as she now divides her time between Takatsuki, Osaka, Japan and Philadelphia, where she joined the illustrious faculty of Temple University in 2016 – lucky piano students!

Kudos to everyone involved, particularly to Key Pianists and Terry Eder for making it happen (see Frank Daykin’s interview from 9/14/16 Unlocking Beauty: A Conversation with Terry Eder).

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) Artist Series presents Ian Gindes
Ian Gindes, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 30, 2017

 

The Memorial Day weekend concluded with a solo piano recital by a Captain in the Army National Guard, Ian Gindes, who has a formidable piano study pedigree (including a D. Mus. Arts). His recital was a study in stark contrast, with his best work in the twentieth-century American repertoire that he has made his calling card.

He began with an account of Bach’s first Partita (B-Flat major, BWV 825), and he kept his right foot far away from the sustaining pedal, which in itself is admirable, but which in this case led to somewhat stiff, wooden readings of all but the final movement. His contrapuntal clarity was good, but he never rolled a single chord in the entire work, which was particularly detrimental in the Sarabande, making it sound heavy rather than sensual. In the Menuet II, he did not wait the correct amount of time before beginning the repeats, rushing instead and creating a sort of unease in this listener. Finally, in the concluding Gigue, joy entered his fingers, and that was the best movement.

A Chopin group followed, it suffered from a lack of elegance and/or poetry in the interpretive approach. The famous E-Flat major Nocturne (Op. 9, No. 2) had a punched melody way too loud for the accompaniment, some wayward rubati and some artificial-sounding lingering (still, I’d rather be irritated than bored). The A-Flat major Impromptu (Op. 29) lacked sensitivity and a tossed-off quality. In the Etude (Op. 10, No. 3) in E major, Mr. Gindes did present the iconic melody very beautifully. The next Etude (Op. 10, No. 4) in C-Sharp minor showed that he can move his fingers in the requisite fashion, but it was marred by heaviness.

Mr. Gindes followed this with a Liszt group. Two selections from the less-often played Années de pelerinage: Suisse were included. Here his thunderous approach suited the Chapelle de Guillaume Tell very well, invoking church-organs, battle horns, and echoes across mountain valleys. In Au bord d’une source however, his water did not play and sparkle, the tempo was too slow, though in Liszt’s “small-note” cadenzas he played beautifully; I wish he had brought that quality to the whole piece. Part of my definition of virtuosity is not only the ability to play difficult pieces, but to give the audience the sense “of course I can do that, AND I can do so much more.” In Liszt’s Paganini Etude La Campanella, Liszt set out to create a level of difficulty in purely pianistic terms that would equal what Paganini made one lone violinist do. Mr. Gindes seemed at the outer limit of what he is capable of doing, with nothing left to spare.

After intermission, it was as though a different person took the stage. I marveled at the utter perfection of his Copland groups, and the Gershwin/Wild song transcription/etudes. Mr. Gindes played one of my all-time favorite piano transcriptions by Copland, his Oscar-nominated score for the movie version of Our Town (1940). I could not believe how completely he was attuned to the content of the music, the beautiful piano tone, and the absolutely appropriate sentiment of every moment.

Probably only Earl Wild could make his own etudes based on Gershwin popular songs sound completely easy and effortless, but Mr. Gindes certainly gives him a run for his money, particularly in the sensuous rendering of Embraceable You.

Mr. Gindes finished with Copland’s own piano transcription of his ballet Rodeo (1942) composed for Agnes de Mille. Every buckaroo sprang to life, the wistfulness of the silent corral at night, the dancing flirtations of the Saturday night couples, and the final Hoe-Down. It was truly a celebration of America and Americana, in which Mr. Gindes did NOT seem at the limit of what he could do.

We need more contemporary American piano music on recitals, and Ian Gindes can fulfill that role beautifully.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents With Strength & Joy
William C. Powell, Guest Conductor
Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos; Jessica Grigg, mezzo-soprano
Pepper Choplin, Composer/Conductor
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
May 29, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York’s (DCINY) Memorial Day concert featured a musical amuse-bouche before the concert (and during intermission): “Amazing Grace,” and patriotic, folk, and march music played by the Patriot Brass Ensemble in an upper-right balcony. This gave the event the aura of “a small town in New England,” to be Ivesian about it.

We have composer Alfredo Casella to thank for the revival of Vivaldi’s Gloria, which took place only in 1939. It seems as though it has “always” been there, so iconic is its place in our concerts and sacred celebrations. I will confess to being apprehensive about the use of a large choir in the Vivaldi. There is no tradition of gigantism where Vivaldi is concerned (as there is, for instance, in Handel performance in England). However, I am delighted to report that the performance was absolutely transparent despite the huge choir. The excellent conductor William C. Powell must surely bear most of the responsibility for this: his motions were simple, yet always laser-precise, and he got what he wanted from the group. The second movement Et in terra pax was intensely expressive from the choir.

All three soloists were perfectly cast for their roles: Meredith Lustig and Katherine Polit, sopranos, in the duet Laudamus te, and Ms. Lustig as soloist in the Domine deus, where the dialog with the uncredited oboist was gorgeous. Mezzo-soprano Jessica Grigg sang the Domine deus, Agnus dei beautifully, with a wonderfully expressive (again uncredited) cello continuo; she appeared again in the Quoniam tu solus sanctus.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, as the orchestra is such a large part of the proceedings of most of these DCINY events, that it is a total shame for there not to be a listing of their names too.

After intermission, all active and/or retired service members in the audience were asked to stand and receive our grateful applause as each anthem of that branch of the armed services was played by the Patriot Brass—a fitting way to remind us of what the day is really about, barbecues notwithstanding. Service personnel had been admitted free of charge to this event.

I had issues with the major sacred work on the second half—Psalm 23: A Journey with the Shepherd, composed and conducted by Pepper Choplin—so much so that I had to call a friend of mine, a prominent organist/church choir director in Michigan who has attended some of Mr. Choplin’s workshops just to ascertain if I was really a sourpuss curmudgeon. He told me “Frank, there is a need and use for music of this type that you may not comprehend, since you’re not in the church-music field.” Okay, I had my “ouch” moment, then was left to consider how to address matters. Remember, Mr. Choplin is a best-selling composer of church music, and I am but a music critic, perfectly capable of being wrong.

Psalm 23 was extremely “easy-listening,” it had little contrapuntal interest, the harmonies were predictable and sweet, there was lots of text repetition, it was over-orchestrated (to the point of drowning out the mass choir at times), and Mr. Choplin surrounded the Psalm with a text “We are not alone” (two soloists drawn from the choir did good work here). I think Psalm 23 can do very well on its own. That being said, I was able to appreciate how fervently and sincerely the piece was played and sung. The choral sound was indeed thrilling in the louder climactic moments. So, I am left with my friend’s admonishment, and the enthusiastic applause of the audience who obviously loved it a great deal.

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Brahms’ Requiem
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, DCINY Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Claire Kuttler, soprano
Andrew McLaughlin, baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 28, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued its Memorial Day weekend extravaganza with an all-Brahms program led by its artistic director and principal conductor, the estimable Jonathan Griffith. Although Ein deutsches Requiem can stand alone as a whole program, Maestro Griffith preceded it with a suitably moody account of the Tragic Overture, one that showcased the depth of the strings’ tone beautifully.

Then the massed international choir (288 by my estimate) took the stage for the main event, the consoling “humanist” (non-liturgical) Requiem Brahms composed, at least partly prompted by the death of his mother. Maestro Griffith gave a very spacious rendition of the lyrical movements, not leaving any shaping unexplored. Paradoxically, he drove the fugal sections (important portions of movements two, three, and six) quite briskly, causing a loss of some choral clarity and even a few coordination mishaps between choir and orchestra. Only the benevolent but tyrannical precision of a Robert Shaw, and more rehearsal time, could have solved that issue. Although control of pitch in the softer sections was tentative, the choral sound was thrilling at the louder dynamic levels.

So seductive is the “surface layer” of the Requiem that we can easily forget just how “constructed” the piece is: motivic unity among all movements, arch form, symmetry, and massive Bach-inspired fugues. Brahms really poured all his heart AND mind into this, his longest work by far. There is a certain “churning” of the composer’s mind that then opens into worlds of ineffable repose. The orchestral playing was great, with contrapuntal answering between parts heard in all its mellow clarity, and nice work from all the winds too (so often treacherous)—that I was able to hear this is a testament to the quality of this rendition.

The soloists were both very good, with Andrew McLaughlin delivering emphatic accounts of his, dramatically involved and with vivid diction. Probably one of the hardest things any soprano has to do is to sit still on stage for thirty-eight minutes through the first four movements and then rise and deliver one of the most difficult solos in the oratorio repertoire. Claire Kuttler has a voice larger than one is accustomed to hearing in this work, but it soared beautifully out into Carnegie Hall, though at times she appeared to be having breath difficulty. I did enjoy the fullness of her reading, at times even impetuous—it contrasted with the usual “ethereal” approach.

This Requiem is just the cure for our troubling time that seems to abound in bad news. Well done!

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Celebration and Reflection
The Hudson Festival Chorus and Orchestra (OH), Thomas Scott, director; Susan Wozniak, soprano; Daniel Doty and Christopher McGilton, baritones
Coro de Cámara de Campina Grande (Brazil), Loiret’s Singers (France), Tutti Choir BSB (Brazil), Vladimir Silva, director; Julie Cassia Cavalcante, soprano; Jeonai Batista, tenor; Regiane Yamaguchi, piano
Church Choir Oberbuchsiten, Projektchor Peter & Paul Aarau, Singkreis Wohlen Bern-Projektchor “SMW” Frick-Kantorei der Stadtkirch Aarau, (Switzerland), Dieter Wagner, director; Miriam Wagner, piano
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall. New York, NY
May 26, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) got Memorial Day weekend off to a fine start with a program showcasing widely disparate composers, conductors, nations, and styles, and all having sacred texts in common. All three conductors were uncommonly musical, even though their individual choral styles were, predictably, quite different from each other. They had the advantage of having their “native” choir(s) brought to New York, rather than having to conduct a massed choir assembled “on-the-spot” (though the results of those outings have also been uniformly splendid).

The evening began with the magic spell that is Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem, which was prompted by the deaths of both of his parents within a few years’ time. It was presented in a scaled-down version corresponding to Fauré’s earliest conception when he was assistant organist in a small loft at Paris’ Eglise de la Madeleine. A well-written justification was offered in the program notes by the excellent conductor Thomas More Scott, although, as we know, Fauré went on to two more revisions of the work, each time expanding it because he was not satisfied with the limitations of the first. This performance, with fifty-four singers and thirteen instrumentalists, allowed the many felicities of counterpoint to emerge with clarity. The overwhelming gentleness of Fauré’s view of the mass for the dead was created beautifully by the choir, with sensitive dynamics. All the soloists were good, especially since they were drawn from the ranks of the choir. For me, this rendition was more subtly effective than the heavily professionalized, sometimes inflated, versions one often hears.

The evening continued with a Brazilian composer’s (Danilo Guanais) setting of the Ordinary of the Catholic Mass, accompanied by piano and a light percussion duo. His philosophy of man as part of a community that believes and professes its collective faith was beautifully displayed in a work that abounded in textural variety from section to section, and accessible music with the occasional “Latin” flavor. There were so many lovely moments. I will only be able to cite the pastorale of Qui propter nos homines, the spooky moans and groans added to the Crucifixus, the twin solos in the Confiteor, and the tenor’s beautiful Benedictus. Both soloists were effective, with Jeonai Batista possessing an especially sweet lyric tenor. Conductor Vladimir Silva, obviously steeped in the style, led a dynamically vivid performance, with great energetic cut-offs.

After intermission, a consortium of Swiss choral groups sang a handful of too-seldom performed chorales and motets by Felix Mendelssohn, under the gorgeous choral conducting of Dieter Wagner (not to be confused with Richard Wagner’s grandson), both a cappella and with piano. Wagner’s motions brilliantly conveyed his meaning to the choir (the evening’s largest group) with the space and lyrical flow so appropriate to this music. All the selections showed Mendelssohn’s “debt” (if you can call it that) to Bach and the German Protestant tradition, perhaps inheritance would be a preferable word. In the final Hör mein Bitten (Hear My Prayer), a female vocal quartet from the choir was front and center for the lovely entreaty that was answered and complemented by the full choir.

What an inspiring evening!


Legato Arts presents The International Trio in Review

Legato Arts presents The International Trio in Review

Legato Arts presents The International Trio
Luisa Sello, Guoliang Han, flute
Amir Farid, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 22, 2017

 

Legato Arts (www.legatoarts.com), with additional support provided by the Italian Regional Project FVG 2016, presented the International Trio on May 22, 2017 at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. The International Trio consists of two flutists, Luisa Sello (www.luisasello.it) and Guoliang Han (www.hanguoliang.com), and pianist Amir Farid (www.amirfarid.com). In a program featuring some of the “usual suspects” (Franz Doppler, Freidrich Kuhlau), great masters (Bach, Mozart, Ravel), and a few unfamiliar names (Huang Huwei, François Borne), the selections proved to be a hit with the audience that filled the hall.

The program was structured to showcase both the trio and more soloistic repertoire for Ms. Sello and Mr. Han. The first half consisted of works that are technically challenging and musically rich in content, while the second half was dedicated mostly to showstoppers that highlight the virtuosity of the players. It was also a program that could be described as “user friendly,” with all accessible works, no strident dissonances or excessive demands on the listener.

Ms. Sello, Mr. Han, and Mr. Farid took the stage and opened with J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1039. The balance was excellent (even with the piano on the full stick), the intonation was accurate, and the details of line and form were done with careful precision. Ms. Sello then played Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess), in an arrangement for flute and piano. Ms. Sello has a light tone, with an amount of vibrato that never wandered into the “wobbly” territory, which was well-suited to this work. Mr. Han followed with Sunlight on Mountain Tian by Huang Huwei (b. 1932), a 20th century work with its heart in the 19th. One could speak of a musical East-meets-West mélange. It was poignant with splashes of color that Mr. Han brought out with the maximum effect. The half ended with Doppler’s Andante et Rondo for Two Flutes and Piano, Op 25. Filled with Doppler’s characteristic brilliant writing for the flute, it starts calmly and “heats up” in what is a fun work for performers and listeners alike. The performers handled this work with perfect understanding in a satisfying performance.

Before anything else, much praise must be given to Mr. Farid, who handled his role with complete commitment, when it would have been so easy (and so understandable) to go through the motions given many of the works have the pianist in an almost parenthetical role.

After Intermission, Ms. Sello and Mr. Han offered Two Arias for Two Flutes from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte – Pamina’s Ach, ich fühl’s, es ist verschwunden (Ah, I feel it, it is vanished), and the famous Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen (Hell’s vengeance boils in my heart), as sung by The Queen of the Night. The interplay between the two players was excellent, and there were moments of charm and excitement throughout. Mr. Han then offered Doppler’s well-known Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise, Op. 26. This is one of those “must play” works, that is filled with virtuosic adventure. Mr. Han did not disappoint, as he tossed off the challenges with apparent ease. Not to be outdone, Ms. Sello answered the “challenge” with a brilliant performance of themes from Bizet’s Carmen in a work entitled Carmen Fantasy (Fantaisie brillante) by François Borne.

After all this razzle-dazzle, it was time for the players to reassert their artistry with a musically taut rendering of Kuhlau’s masterful Trio Sonata in G major, Op. 119, which ended the concert in fine style. The audience rewarded the trio with extended applause. The performers were presented with bouquets of flowers from their fans. Mr. Han ended up with an extra bouquet, which he gallantly presented to Mr. Farid’s page turner, who was visibly delighted by the gift. All then took their final leave to the continued applause of the large audience.


Rondo Young Artist 2017 Presents Rondo Forma Competition First Place Winners’ Recital in Review

Rondo Young Artist 2017 Presents Rondo Forma Competition First Place Winners’ Recital in Review

Rondo Young Artist 2017 Presents Rondo Forma Competition First Place Winners’ Recital
Moeko Chiyozaki, Jui-Sheng Li, and Yan-Li piano; Jisu Choi, violin
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 19, 2017

 

Three pianists and one violinist were the performers in Weill Recital Hall as First Place winners of the Rondo Forma Competition under the auspices of the organization entitled Rondo Young Artist (www.rondoyoungartist.org, co-founded several years ago by Emilia Oskotsky, Executive Director, and Ilinka Manova, Artistic Director). Each performer gave what amounted to a mini-recital (approximately twenty-five to thirty minutes), and each proved to be quite worthy of the distinguished performing opportunity.

Moeko Chiyozaki of Japan was the first pianist, playing a program of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C-sharp minor (BWV 849), the first movement of the Brahms Piano Sonata in C Major, Op. 1, and the first movement (Allegro moderato) of Bartok’s Piano Sonata (Sz. 80). Ms. Chiyozaki conveyed the somber beauty of Bach’s Prelude with earnest dedication, proceeding with admirable control to its highly complex five-voice fugue. Her playing was marked by clarity of voicing and evenness of touch, all qualities which this work requires to a great degree. One would have loved to hear her in more Bach, but alas, there were time limits. Her Brahms followed, a movement of sweeping gestures and drama, which appeared not as well suited to her temperament as the Bach, but was nonetheless a good performance overall. Time will tell what repertoire will attract this pianist most powerfully. She has the fingers to play whatever she chooses, as was evident in her Bartok movement, which closed her set with good percussive energy. Ms. Chiyozaki was clearly up to its demands, and it was refreshing to hear a pianist not brutalizing the instrument, as some do in this work.

Incidentally, the program did not list the performers’ ages, and only one teacher was named for each performer on the final page, despite each player listing in their biographies an array of teachers and musicians whose master classes they have attended. One can therefore only guess about Ms. Chiyozaki’s age, but her biography stated that she will begin doctoral studies at SUNY at Stonybrook in the fall of 2017, having already obtained degrees from Elisabeth University and Illinois State University, as well as a Professional Studies Certificate at the Manhattan School of Music with Miyoko Lotto. It appears that she can look forward to an exciting musical future.

The second pianist of the evening was Jui-Sheng Li, a graduate of the National Taiwan Normal University (BFA) and the University of Wyoming (MM), and currently based in Montréal, Canada. He will begin his doctoral studies in music at McGill University in the fall, having already completed his Artist Diploma there with Kyoko Hashimoto.

Mr. Li played just one work, Schumann’s Fantasie Op. 17, a monumental work (even literally monumental, considering its intended role in helping raise funds for a statue of Beethoven in Bonn!). Though we heard only this single work from Mr. Li, it was really all one needed to hear to gain a picture of the player. Mr. Li is a musician of integrity and depth, and it was a joy to hear this work in his hands. Though the excerpting of movements that occurred throughout the rest of the evening cannot be held against the other young performers at all, given time constraints and possibly even contest guidelines (and this listener is not such a purist in that sense anyway), still, the selection of this magnificent piece in its entirety spoke volumes. It was a wonderful reminder that, through the tension and glitz of auditions, tapes and prizes, the ultimate star is the music itself. Mr. Li captured its ardor, wistfulness, and reverie with sensitivity to tone and phrasing. One looks forward to hearing more from this young artist.

The last of the three pianists was Yan Li, native of Shenzhen, China, and currently a Bachelor of Music candidate at the Manhattan School of Music with Dr. Joanne Polk. As with the other performers, one can only guess at the age of this young player, but her biography states that she began studies at age six and she has been winning prizes in competitions since 2005.

Ms. Li played with a fierce intensity (matched by a fiery red dress) and gave the music her all. She opened with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F Major, KV 533 (the opening Allegro), with rhythmic precision, crisp articulations, fine fleet finger-work, and extreme attention to detail. One would be hard pressed to find flaws! Ramping up the intensity still further, she played the first movement of Schumann’s Piano Sonata in F-sharp minor, projecting well its extremes of dynamics and emotions. She also showed the ability to switch directions “on a dime” – an essential for Schumann’s mercurial flights. Most brilliant though was Ms. Li’s performance of Impronta Digitale by Judith Zaimont, a work remembered best perhaps as one of the contemporary options in the 2001 Van Cliburn Competition. This toccata-like piece is an ideal vehicle for displaying finger technique, so Ms. Li, with her considerable digital prowess, gave it an impressive ride. She should get much mileage from it in future years (and it may even become a signature piece – or like its title suggests, a “fingerprint”).

The evening’s violinist, Jisu Choi, had the role of concluding the recital, and she did so commendably. A student of Lucie Robert, her biography lists that she is currently pursuing her Bachelor of Music degree at the Manhattan School of Music.

Ms. Choi started with J. S. Bach’s Sonata in A minor, No. 2, BWV 1003, just the first movement, Grave. It was a good movement for her to find her musical voice and adjust to the hall, so one could almost ignore the unresolved feeling at its close, omitting subsequent movements (on the dominant, no less, as Bach’s way of leading onward). The transition gave an audition-like feeling to the recital, but following it with something neo-classical was a good idea, in this case Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major. The movements selected were the Toccata, Aria II, and Capriccio, their sinewy lines showing Ms. Choi’s agility and precision. She is a gifted and energetic performer of considerable potential. Concluding with Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella, Op. 43, she was able to indulge in a completely different kind of sound, warmer and freer with a liberal use of slides. Her very capable collaborator at the piano was Kyoung Im Kim. It was an excellent close to a fine recital.

Congratulations are in order to the directors of the Rondo Forma competition for selecting and presenting four very deserving young artists, an experience that will undoubtedly be a stepping stone to their next exciting achievements.

 


Rutgers International Pianists Gala in Review

Rutgers International Pianists Gala in Review

Rutgers International Pianists Gala Featuring Pianists of the Mason Gross School of the Arts
Min Kwon, Artistic Director and Curator
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
May 8, 2017

 

The Mason Gross School of the Arts of Rutgers University presents yearly piano galas which feature consistently fascinating, thematically unified programs and high-level performances. Though the performers generally include numerous doctoral students (and alumni), the concerts also include talented undergraduates, giving us a sneak peek at some largely undiscovered potential stars.

Past galas have included a Schumann and Chopin 200th anniversary concert in 2010 and an all-Debussy 150th anniversary one in 2012, among others. This year, the uniting theme was diversity itself, drawing upon the varied cultural backgrounds of the nineteen participating students. The program was designed to take listeners “Around the World” with music from fifteen different countries (with duplications only in the cases of Russia, the US, and Korea). Though the concept is not at all a first (in fact, “Around the World” was a favorite titled program of this reviewer’s pianist father, Robert Schrade), the idea lent itself quite naturally to a concert including nineteen musicians from fifteen countries.

The musicians at Mason Gross make up a virtual United Nations, with the gifted and gracious Artistic Director, pianist, and teacher, Min Kwon, at the helm. The variety was heightened by native garb from the performers’ respective countries, and Ms. Kwon, who emceed from her chair onstage, joked about her role bringing to mind a Miss Universe pageant. The word “pageant” was apt, in its best sense, especially with such a fantastic array of colors and sounds.

The music began with Hui Diao of China playing four selections from Eight Memories in Watercolor (1979) by Tan Dun (b. 1957). Blue Nun, Staccato Beans, Herdboy’s Song, and Sunrain were the folk-inspired pieces, played with visible immersion and finesse. Music of Manos Hadjidakis (1925-1994) followed, played by George Lykogiannis of Greece. Two dances, Syrtos and Kalamatianos from For a Little White Seashell, Op. 1 (1947-48), brought some exotic rhythms and seven-eight meter, and, as Ms. Kwon suggested, some thoughts of ouzo!

 Though the musical itinerary zig-zagged, flow and variety were clearly a priority. Spanish music followed well after the Greek, and Enriqueta Somarriba of Spain was up next playing Aragonesa from Cuatro Piezas Españolas (1909) and Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo Suite (1915) by Manuel de Falla (1876-1946). Both were handled with aplomb and a minimum of physical display. This reviewer was almost relieved not to see the popular Arthur Rubinstein-esque forearm antics in the Fire Dance, just Ms. Somarriba’s natural, individual interpretation.

Michael Bulychev-Okser of Russia followed with two transcriptions, Liebesleid (1923) of Sergei Rachmaninoff after Fritz Kreisler and Liszt’s The Nightingale (1842) after Alyabyev. Both renditions, surefire through some dense virtuoso writing, will perhaps acquire more elasticity with time, though they showed considerable strength. Following these came Sakura-Sakura (A Fantasy for Piano, 1953) by Kozaburo Hirai (1910-2002), which took the listener to Japan via a well-phrased, thoughtful interpretation by Junko Ichikawa. We sadly missed the next programmed work by Nodar Gabunia (1933-2000) which was to be played by Alexander Beridze, an excellent pianist I have reviewed before, but who was unfortunately away. Ms. Mijung Cho from Korea thus was next, playing Korean Rhapsody (1975) by Eun-Hoe Park (b. 1930) with – again – considerable pianistic facility through some very florid composition.

Three works from the US completed the first half. Michael Maronich gave an intelligent reading to Interlude II (2003) by Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), bringing interpretive sensitivity to what is often treated as chiefly cerebral. He seems well suited to play more music in this vein. Kevin Madison, next, played his own composition entitled room for milk (2017) – a fascinating piece with driving rhythms and jazz elements (including a final reference to Joplin’s rag, The Entertainer). Mr. Madison remarked that as a musician of mixed race he wanted to address the lack of representation of African-Americans in classical music, and he is off to a promising start. Carl Patrick Bolleia concluded the half with the ever-delightful Serpent’s Kiss from The Garden of Eden (1974) by William Bolcom (b. 1938). Ms. Kwon showed insight in matching this humorous piece to such an uninhibited player. Though some stomping was overly loud in this listener’s opinion – the stealth and suavity of the “serpent” were well captured elsewhere.

To open the second half, we heard the impressive pianist Anna Keiserman of Russia playing Basso Ostinato (1961) by Rodion Shchedrin (b. 1932). A virtual pianistic tightrope, this piece leaves no split second for error, and there were none to speak of. Ms. Keiserman played brilliantly (and from memory), quite a feat considering the nerve-racking nature of these group concerts. What followed was aptly described by Ms. Kwon as “Liszt meets Liberace,” a fantasy on a Philippine folksong entitled Ang Larawan (c.1943) by Francisco Buencamino, Sr. (1883-1952). While the highly florid piece interested one chiefly as a novelty, the performer, Abraham Alinea of the Philippines, was noteworthy. While one tries in reviews to react to the music and not to biographies, it was shocking to learn from Ms. Kwon’s preface that he had been self-taught until only three years ago, when formal lessons were begun – spurred coincidentally by a course with Ms. Kwon entitled, “How Do You Get to Carnegie Hall?” Apparently he learned how very quickly.

Playing late in such a long evening is challenging, but these young players gave their all. Shimrit Tsiporen of Israel commanded one’s full attention with her mature artistry in Pastorale and Toccata from Five Pieces for Piano, Op.34 (1943) by Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984). Two selections (Chula and Valsa Caprichosa) from Cenas Portuguesas, Op. 9 (1887), by José Vianna da Motta (1868-1948), were engaging in the hands of Nuno Marques of Portugal. Francesco Barfoed from Denmark followed with two pieces of Carl Nielsen (1865-1931) first an early work, the Humoresque-Bagatelles, Op. 11, No. 1 (1897) followed by the third of Three Piano Pieces, Op. 59. Mr. Barfoed handled the contrasting styles and textures with assurance and artistry remarkable for one so young. I-Wen Wang followed Nielsen with a work by Yi-Chih Lu (b. 1982) based on a traditional folk song entitled Grasshopper Playing Tricks on a Rooster (2014). An interesting piece, set in alternating jazz and “classical” idioms (including a reference to Paganini’s 24th Caprice), it was given a crowd-pleasing performance.

Approaching the evening’s home stretch and representing Chile, composer Patricio Molina (b. 1989) performed his own piece, A Nicanor Parra (Chilean Rhapsody, composed in 2012), demonstrating a fluent command of the instrument as well as a natural sense of his national music. He also added a Brazilian Samba he had newly composed, in fact for Ms. Kwon (one must add “resident muse” to her job description!). The concert, in all honesty, was a bit too long (starting at 7:30 and ending close to 10), but it is understandable that Ms. Kwon, as dedicatee, would tend to yield to such a request. One felt for the subsequent performers, who had waited all evening for their moments.

The concert closed with offerings from Korea and Cuba, Three Korean Minyo (2014) by Edward Niedermaier (1983) given a superb performance by Rachel Yunkyung Choo of Korea, and works of Ernesto Lecuona (1895-1963) including Danza de los Ñañigos (1930), La Comparsa, and ¡Y la Negra Bailaba! played with mellow artistry by Erikson Rojas, soon going off to assume a professorship himself. Bravo to them and to all who participated in the occasion. One can only admire Ms. Kwon and all those at Mason Gross for this entire undertaking. One eagerly awaits the next!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Viva La Musica de Argentina
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists: Dany Dorf, Drums & Voice; François Knab, Andean Flutes, Tiple Colombiano & Voice; Rodrigo Mosquera, Charango & Voice; Sergio Saraniche, Guitar & Voice; Vidal Rojas, Guitar & Voice
Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor
Cuerda y Voz, Guest Artists; George Hemcher, Piano
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Saul Zaks, Guest Conductor
Martín Palmeri, DCINY Composer-in-Residence
Carla Filipcic Holm, Soprano; Daniel Binelli, Bandoneon; Martín Palmeri, Piano
David Geffen Hall at Lincoln Center, New York, NY
April 30, 2017

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) really did something to redress the grievous lack of Latin American music on our concert stages by bringing Argentine performers and composers to Lincoln Center on April 30, 2017. Many of us thrill to the Argentine tango as performed on Dancing with the Stars, and perhaps a few recognize the name Piazzolla. An intrepid singer might have explored the songs of Guastavino, and pianists may have struggled valiantly with Ginastera’s First Piano Sonata, but there is so much more going on in Argentina. The folk element is never very far from the surface, in fact sometimes it is the surface. Remember: the minuet and waltz were social dances before they were stylized into “classical” genres. Since the current Pope is Argentine, I think he would greatly have appreciated this evening, especially the sacred music. I enjoyed the concert so much (which was streamed live on DCINY’s Facebook page) that I ran home and watched it again.

 

The evening began with the vocal/instrumental quintet Cuerda y Voz (String and Voice) where all the members double on various instruments. They started with Atahualpa Yupanqui’s plaintive Camino del Indio (The Indian Road), which contained a tantalizing bit of the 1913 Peruvian melody on Andean flute that was appropriated by Paul Simon for his 1970 El Condor Pasa. Yupanqui is the most important Argentine folk musician of the twentieth century, his name means “He who comes from faraway lands to say something,” much like Cuerda y Voz. Then followed four numbers, all featuring the group’s great unanimity, expressive vocals, wonderful handling of the instruments, and even sly humor amid songs, many of which deal with the hardness of life. The tiple colombiano is a “small” guitar with three courses of four strings, very difficult to play, and I confess I had never heard one before. The charango is an even smaller stringed “guitar” with ten strings in five courses.

 

Cuerda y Voz stayed on stage, playing a discreet instrumental while the first massed choir took the stage for the Misa Criolla by Ariel Ramírez, in which they would take the role(s) traditionally allotted to soloists. This is a complete setting, in Spanish, of the Catholic Mass. Ramírez, who died in 2010, created this signature work in 1964, and it gave him financial independence, but many don’t realize that there are three hundred other works by him. The choir was accompanied by electric piano, a small percussion section, and Cuerda y Voz, the whole conducted by the excellent Jonathan Griffith, who wore a traditional poncho that matched those of Cuerda y Voz. Each movement has as its musical underpinning an Argentine folk-music genre. The Agnus Dei, particularly, was beautifully plaintive in its plea for peace; its music was in the estilo pampeano (from the pampas), a desolate area whose inhabitants are often lonely.

 

After intermission, a different set of singers took the stage, along with the DCINY orchestra, strings only, a concert grand piano (with the composer playing), a soprano, and a bandoneón soloist, all conducted by the superb Saul Zaks. For those who don’t recall, the bandoneón is the “accordion-like” Argentine instrument that imparts such bite, soul, and authenticity to that music. They were there to give us the world premiere of Tango Credo by Martín Palmeri, part of a projected complete Mass setting (he has previously created a Tango Gloria) in Latin utilizing tango rhythms and shapes. Daniel Binelli began the entire work with mysterious utterances from the bandoneón that sounded like he was assembling cosmic fragments that would later be revealed to be whole. He was excellent, and his virtual miming of death at the phrase “Passus et sepultus est” (He suffered and was buried) was gripping.

 

The soprano soloist, Carla Filipcic Holm, has a very big voice, and it was a pleasure to hear that it was totally in her control, capable of soft high notes and other subtleties. She invested the part with great feeling. The tango, for me, is such a physical dance, full of sudden alternations of seduction and rejection, that when it is stripped of dance movement I don’t know quite what to make of it. It seems a bit too sensual for sacred music, my limitation I’m sure; perhaps I just need a long stay in Argentina! Palmeri’s Credo took 38 minutes, whereas the entire Mass by Ramirez was 22 minutes. The Credo is the wordiest section of the Mass, and there was a lot of repetition of what had just been sung by the chorus or the soloist. Nevertheless, the movement built very well, the Crucifixus was the appropriately solemn low point, and thereafter the piece progressed to a triumphant affirmation of faith, which after all is the point of the Credo.

 

Interestingly, the Argentine composer Palmeri had a Danish grandfather, and the conductor, who is native Argentine, currently makes his home in Denmark. The choirs were extremely international, with groups from Argentina, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Denmark, as well as a few “domestic” groups. The triumph of globalization, when applied to something worthwhile!


Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo in Review

Legato Arts presents The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo
Ivan Ženatý, violin
Sandra Shapiro, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
April 24, 2017

 

Today’s world is filled with frenetic energy. Loud, fast, and unrelenting sounds and “news” stories assault us non-stop. People shout instead of speak, debate is reduced to memes and 140-word missives, and attention spans are getting ever shorter. For a short time, those persons who stepped into Weill Hall on April 24, 2017 were transported back to an earlier time, when things moved more slowly. The sounds were not there to assault the ears, but rather to delight them in the creations of masters like Brahms, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns, and Elgar. The excellent Ženatý/Shapiro Duo took the stage to treat all present to this wonderful journey.

The Ženatý/Shapiro Duo is violinist Ivan Ženatý and pianist Sandra Shapiro. Mr. Ženatý (www.ivanzenaty.com) maintains a busy schedule as a performer, collaborator, recording artist, adjudicator, and teacher. He plays a 1740 Giuseppe Guarneri del Jesu violin, courtesy of the Harmony Foundation of New York. Ms. Shapiro (www.sandra-shapiro.com) also is much in demand as a performer and teacher, and is highly sought-after as a chamber musician.

Mr. Ženatý exudes an old-world charm, in both his dress (tuxedo with tails) and his bearing. He stood silently as the rush of late-comers rushed about the hall looking for open seats, while nodding at this pack of humanity with a smile, as if to say “Please, take your time, I will wait for you.” He also held the stage door open for the page turner, who was late in exiting the stage, before exiting himself. It all gave this reviewer a feeling of gemütlichkeit, which further accentuated the feelings of a different era.

Brahms’s lyrical Violin Sonata No.2 in A major, Op. 100 was the opening piece. This work is Brahms in his happiest mood, with the piano and violin as equal partners. Lest anyone think that lyrical means “simple,” this work is demanding for the players, both as individuals, and as a duo. What was apparent from the very beginning was that Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro were more than up to the challenge. Their rapport was outstanding, the balance was finely realized, and the singing phrases of the work were brought out with practiced assurance.

Edward Elgar’s 1918 Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82 followed the Brahms. This work is highly emotionally charged, filled with melancholy and angst, which was no doubt reflective of the feelings of the nation at the time, weary from the carnage of World War One. There is always the danger of the melancholy becoming overblown in this work, and the effect descending into an almost cartoonish, mawkish mess of emotional wreckage. Much credit is due to Mr. Ženatý and Ms. Shapiro for not allowing this to happen even for a moment. It was an outstanding performance of a work that this listener has never found to his liking. It was so convincing that I must re-think my opinion about the work. The audience appeared to be moved as well, as the first half came to a successful close.

After intermission, the second half opened with Antonin Dvořák’s lovely Ballade in D minor, Op. 15. This six-minute work was written for John Coates, the publisher of the London Magazine of Music. The Duo captured both the brooding opening and the sudden explosive middle section in what was a superior performance.

Ending the program was Camille Saint-Saëns’ Violin Sonata No.1 in D minor, Op. 75. It has been said that Marcel Proust confessed that this sonata provided the model for the fictional sonata by Vinteuil that plays such an important part in Swann’s Way. The four movements are grouped in twos, so there is only one pause (after the second movement Adagio), a plan Saint-Saëns’ used again in the Organ Symphony. It is a brilliant work that shows both the violinist and pianist to great advantage. The Adagio was especially beautiful, but the moto perpetuo finale highlighted Mr. Ženatý’s virtuosity. The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Mr. Ženatý is fully invested in the music, as he searches for and brings forth the emotions and subtleties of the works he plays. There are no histrionics, no flash, and simply no showiness. His tone is rich and warm, and his intonation is impeccable. He has technique to burn, so it would be an easy thing for him to dash off any number of virtuoso showstoppers. That he chooses to plumb the depths of deeper works reflects the confident, mature artist that he is, with faith in the best listening from his audiences. Mr. Ženatý has an ideal collaborator in Ms. Shapiro, who is a sensitive musician with superb technical command.

The duo played a beautiful Fauré encore as a final offering before we were returned to the present. It was a lovely two-hour trip, and one that I hope to take again with this fine duo.