Javor Bračić, Pianist in Review

New York Concert Artists and Associates presents: Javor Bračić, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 22, 2013

Recital debuts can be a dicey proposition in New York, depending on what other concerts and events are scheduled. Learning that a young Croatian pianist would be giving his New York debut in Weill Hall the same night as the much-heralded and fashionable Yuja Wang would play next door at Stern Auditorium, I imagined that a half-empty hall might await him. How wrong I was! Mr. Bračić’s sold-out house left a virtual mob swarming around the box office, hoping for tickets from last-minute cancellations. As the evening progressed, it became clear why: Javor Bračić is a pianist who possesses a deep, genuine musicianship and an outstanding technique that serves the great music he chooses. He honors both listener and composer with his intelligent, committed interpretations, and he offers a thoughtfully constructed program with elegance and humility. It was heartening to be reminded that such an artist is still a draw and that the “competition” for listeners is not always a zero-sum game.

Mr. Bračić began with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, WTC II (BWV 870), which was at once noble and sensitive, with not a note out of place. Moving on to Haydn’s Sonata in D Major, Hob. XVI: 42, he sustained musical tension and interest through its rather long Andante con espressione, right through to the last note of the Vivace assai. Occasionally I wanted ornaments to be more singing in the first movement, and less subservient to the meter, but that was about the only quibble one could have – and a very personal one at that. The delicacy and precision were outstanding.

Moving to later style periods, Mr. Bračić tied his first half together to the Bach and Haydn by performing Debussy’s underplayed Hommage à Haydn (1909) and the even less well known Hommage à Bach (2001) by Croatian composer Davorin Kempf (b. 1947). In between old masters and homages came a World premiere of a work entitled Entwined, Disquiet  (2013) by Rosalie Burrell (b. 1988). At times searching and at others explosive, the two movements explored a tonal world that verged on orchestral, bearing hints of Messiaen and even Scriabin, though without being derivative. Ms. Burrell is still quite young, but already emerging as quite a colorist. I would have enjoyed some information on the piece, but Mr. Bračić, playing from score, appeared to meet this new work’s challenges beautifully, with considerable expressiveness.

As far as the homages go, I’ve never completely grasped the Haydn connection in the ever so brief Debussy work, apart from some tenuous structural likenesses and passing elements of humor and surprise, but it is immediately appealing and was played convincingly by Mr. Bračić. The Bach tribute by Mr. Kempf is far less elusive. Crisp mordents, preceding impassioned scalar writing, hearkened back to Bach’s Toccatas (notable the BWV 565 Organ Toccata in D minor), while quieter counterpoint and sequential episodes were set ingeniously amid some highly adventurous, clearly twentieth-and-twenty-first-century composition. Virtuosity abounded, and Mr. Bračić was on top of it all with dash and drama. Hints of the B -A-C-H theme by Bach himself (based on the tones B-flat, A, C, and B-natural) emerged amid dissonant writing that at times resembled a Bach festival recalled through a dream, all brought to an end with a nod to Bach’s characteristic Picardy close. It is a work I’d like to hear again, especially thanks to Mr. Bračić’s superb performance.

The program’s second half consisted of the Brahms Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5, a feast of some of the noblest, warmest, richest piano writing in history, and Mr. Bračić was well suited to it all. Some minor glitches arose – as happen to almost all pianists – but most seemed here to stem from over-straining for power against the piano’s somewhat resistant treble register at climaxes. If those moments can be conquered with the majesty shown elsewhere, Mr. Bračić will have one of the best Brahms F Minor Sonata performances around. As it is, I would hear him again in a heartbeat. His audience seemed to agree, earning an encore of a small Ravel work – you guessed it!- Hommage à Haydn.

Jeff Lankov, piano, in “Music of Robert Xavier Rodríguez” in Review

Jeff Lankov, piano, in “Music of Robert Xavier Rodríguez”
Presented by The University of Texas at Dallas
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y.
October 6, 2013
Robert Xavier Rodríguez and Jeff Lankov

Robert Xavier Rodríguez and Jeff Lankov

The name Robert Xavier Rodriguez (b. 1946) is hardly unknown in the music world, with an imposing list of worldwide commissions, performances, and other successes filling his biography, but a recent recital of his piano works had this listener convinced that his musical reach is destined to grow far greater still. Currently Professor at The University of Texas at Dallas (among other career demands), he has amassed commissions and residencies with many of the world’s most renowned symphonies and opera organizations, awards galore (Guggenheim, ASCAP, NEA, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, etc.), a long string of record labels and artists presenting his music, and exclusive publication by G. Schirmer. Such biographical information generally serves to “sell” an artist, but in Mr. Rodriguez’s case his music speaks for itself; moreover, the organizations mentioned among his credits may be the ones basking in reflected glory. Listening to this gifted composer, who has been outstanding in his field for decades now, one even begins wondering why certain accolades are missing – Pulitzer committee, where are you?

Part of what sets Mr. Rodriguez’s musical voice apart from others is its directness of expression, vibrant, unpretentious, lyrical, and often humorous, without sacrificing substance or craft. Though there was a liberal sprinkling of modern ragtime throughout the recital, that style predilection did not limit the emotional range (any more than with William Bolcom and others drawn to the genre) – and certainly all was not based on rags. The balance between accessibility and exploration was just right. In darker inspirations, such as the closing work “Caprichos” (2012), based on some rather unsettling Goya artworks, the tonal language was uniquely chilling and nightmarish, yet always with a life-affirming joy in the storytelling itself. Given its World Premiere here, it is a fascinating, thorny, and demanding work, which I look forward to hearing again. Drawing from a variety of musical resources (including fitting references to Scarlatti and Mozart), it is unquestionably fresh and new, a valuable addition to the piano literature (and for pianists, a natural to pair with “Goyescas” of Granados as a bonus).

Bringing the musical storytelling and imagery to life was pianist Jeff Lankov, who sustained musical interest from the recital’s first notes to its last in performances of brilliance and dedication. To open, he teamed up with the composer in Semi-Suite (1980) for piano, four-hands, an appealing work as full of fun as its punning title. Its four movements (the first one repeated as a fifth) include “The All-Purpose Rag” and “Limerick” (ingenious pieces after which the audience had to laugh out loud), plus a delightful Jig and Tango.  The players projected the tongue-in-cheek references and musical “punch lines” with wonderful deadpan delivery, as Lankov continued to do in “Estampie” (1981), which also contained several ragtime-inspired movements. Lest one underestimate the substance of the latter (with titles including “The Slow Sleazy Rag”, “The Couple Action Rag”, and “Reversible Rag”), the seven-movement work is actually a wide ranging set of variations with considerable lyrical beauty as well as stimulating formal challenges. As the Program Notes for one movement state: “In a complex Scherzo, the regular rhythm of the estampie is sharply juxtaposed with disjunct atonal writing. Ragtime rhythms appear, treated with Ars Nova discant and isorhythm techniques in a synthesis of widely disparate styles, after which the estampie reappears.” All of this intricacy made for challenging listening as well as playing, and Mr. Lankov was the man for the job. A veteran of new music performance whose repertoire includes the complete works of John Adams, plus Michael Finnissy, Messiaen, Piazzolla, Radiohead, and more, he embraces it all. There seems to be nothing that eludes his grasp.  His performance of Rodriguez’s tour de force “Fantasia Lussuriosa” (1989) was particularly compelling, with its seductive lines, decadent melodic embroidery, and all-encompassing virtuosity. It is hard to believe there are not more young pianists pouncing on this piece as a “vehicle.” Mr. Lankov played it to the hilt, yet there seems to be enough flexibility in it to elicit many additional interpretations.

In another note of levity, the second half opened with a selection entitled “Hot Buttered Rumba” from Aspen Sketches (1992).  The title as well as the infectious rhythms had many smiling. Despite prodigious skill, Mr. Rodriguez’s sense of humility and humor are never far. We may credit some of Rodriguez’s humor to the encouragement of his great teachers, Nadia Boulanger. In his words, “Boulanger told me that I would only be half a composer until I also learned to express in my music the same love of laughter that she knew I enjoyed as a person.” She would be proud.

In a possible nod to another of Rodriguez’s teachers, Jacob Druckman, the recital also included Rodriguez’s “Seven Deadly Sequences” (1990), an imaginative and highly pianistic set, which should keep pianists enthralled for years to come. Though not mentioned in the program notes on the piece, Druckman’s own piano set entitled “The Seven Deadly Sins” is similarly vivid and evocative. They would make an interesting pairing, perhaps on disc.

On the subject of discs, one reads in Jeff Lankov’s biographical notes that a recording of this recital’s music is in the works. One can only rejoice. Look out for it.

Hyojung Huh CD in Review

Hyojung Huh, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y.
March 13, 2013
Hyojung Huh ,Pianist

Hyojung Huh ,Pianist


Korean pianist Hyojung Huh gave a debut in New York this Spring that introduced not only herself as a performer, but also, in the second half, the ten-movement, forty-five-minute Chorale Fantasy of contemporary Korean composer, Shinuh Lee, entitled “Comfort, comfort my people.”  While I missed the concert itself, I was assigned to review an unedited CD of it and found much to admire. While CD recordings almost inevitably miss the energy of a live performance itself, they do enable the multiple hearings one usually needs with new works. Ms. Huh holds an impressive array of degrees as a pianist, including B.M. and M.M. from Seoul National University, M.M. from Westminster Choir College, and P.D. (Performer Diploma) from Indiana University-Bloomington, in addition to an imminent D.M.A. from the University of Wisconsin where she is a doctoral candidate; in addition, though, Ms. Huh has earned degrees in aesthetics, sacred music, and choral conducting, all of which seem to make her a natural fit for the New York Premiere of Ms. Lee’s imposing,  Biblically-inspired Chorale Fantasy.  Drawn by musical and theological interests (having already done Masters studies on Messiaen in relation to Catholic ontology, liturgy and Biblical language), Ms. Huh is currently working on a dissertation offering a metaphysical and theological perspective on the Shinuh Lee composition performed in this recital, a work which does bear some kinship with works of Messiaen himself.  So, rarely will one see a confluence of such well-matched forces – the pianist, the composer, and the central inspiration of the work all in perfect synch.

Hyojung Huh ,Pianist

Hyojung Huh ,Pianist

In laic terms, the work is an intensely dramatic one, alternating evocations of fire and brimstone with those of ethereal peace, created brilliantly by Ms. Lee and conveyed sympathetically and passionately by Ms. Huh. The first movement is entitled “A brimful living chalice of despair and horror and astonishment.” The movement lived up to its title. Vivid in its thunderous and dissonant virtuoso writing, it alternated bass chants against smoldering trills and tremolos with nightmarishly unrelenting rhythms that were sometimes reminiscent of Ligeti’s “L’escalier du diable” to this listener. Comparisons are for expedience – not to suggest that the work is derivative – so I’ll also be forgiven for comparing some of Ms. Lee’s stomping martial accompaniments to Prokofiev’s “Montagues and Capulets” in their savagery. The overall effect was harrowing. Sheer terror yielded wonderfully in the second movement to a feeling of post-apocalyptic quiet. Entitled “Lord Have Mercy”, this prayerfully simple A-flat major Chorale (towards the end reappearing in A major) developed over a pulsating pedal point into a Brahmsian meditation that might make a jaded listener flinch at such sweetness, were it not in juxtaposition to the ferocious first movement.  Ms. Huh also gave it a pacing which prevented any feeling of glibness. Limitless emotional range, here and in the rest of the work, was matched by an arsenal of several centuries of musical techniques and styles, from early chant, to Bach, through the moderns (even hints of Einojuhani Rautavaara), all integrated organically. The work is quite a journey, and Ms. Huh was up to the task of guiding us through it – performing from memory, no less! Undoubtedly she will bring this work to many venues. Some choices in text will be challenging and controversial to many – and they frankly could prevent widespread acceptance of it – but the music itself could be imagined to depict numerous stirring but more widely applicable Bible verses, should changes be made at some point. Universal acceptance, however, does not appear to be the goal here. Remaining open-minded about new music can be one of the big challenges in reviewing, but the same applies to new interpretations of “old” music, which one also encountered in this recital. Ms. Huh’s first half, consisting of the oft-heard “Jeux D’eau” of Ravel and ubiquitous Symphonic Etudes of Schumann, was unconventionally played. Jeux d’eau (translated sometimes as “Fountains” or “Playings of Water”) was not the sort of sweeping, watery interpretation to which I’m accustomed.  My first reaction was that it needed more flow, flexibility, and the qualities that one associates with water; instead, this performance struck one as a bit stolid, on the slow side, and rather careful; on rethinking it, however, Ms. Huh’s was an interpretation that may have simply been focused more on the individual droplets, each in imagined crystalline perfection. Having not heard the concert live, but catching the tonal beauty of individual notes nonetheless, I’m inclined to give the performer the benefit of the doubt! Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes similarly seemed overly cautious.  In this case, due to some weak spots where tempi fluctuated and some messiness ensued, one imagines that there is simply a need to live with the piece longer. The additional Posthumous Etudes (Nos. II and V) were much appreciated, as they are often omitted, but suffice it to say that the Shinuh Lee work will be what is best remembered of this recital.  That is no small achievement.

Wael Farouk, pianist in Review

Wael Farouk, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y.
June 1, 2012 
Wael Farouk, pianist

Wael Farouk, pianist

Just a year ago, I had the pleasure of hearing (and reviewing) Wael Farouk in one of the best renditions of the Rachmaninoff Third Concerto I’d ever heard, and I could hardly wait to hear him again. The focus in that first hearing had not been his adverse situation as a pianist or, as his biography states, “small stature and an unusual hand condition that prevents him from making a fist or straightening his fingers” (though it was indeed striking to behold his hands’ miraculous maneuvers); what struck one most that evening was his tremendous music making, the kind that defies and transcends any and all challenges. His playing shows a commitment that is profound, and so does his repertoire, which according to his biography includes more than 50 concertos and 60 solo programs (of which he has given Egyptian premieres of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3, Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2, and Prokofiev Piano Concertos Nos. 1, 2, and 3).

Mr. Farouk had been scheduled to give his New York recital debut in Weill Hall in November, 2012, but he was forced to reschedule the concert because of Hurricane Sandy. The debut finally materialized seven months later  – an annoying amount of time to keep a program on the “back burner” while scheduled also for a 140th Anniversary complete Rachmaninoff cycle – but his devoted following was handsomely rewarded for the wait. There were, as will increasingly be expected, numerous pianists clustered near the stage, gesturing towards their own hands, speaking about sizes and stretches, and watching intently. As one may guess, Mr. Farouk’s magic is not so much about hands as about the inner musician.

Mr. Farouk’s imagination was readily apparent from the very first notes of the Prelude in B-flat Minor, Op. 37, No. 1, by Alexander Scriabin. The gentle, almost glassily rendered melody of his opening announced the presence of a sensitive artist and set the tonal palette well for future building into the next work in the same key, Rachmaninoff’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 36 (the revised version).  Here Mr. Farouk shaped his phrases with elegance and an almost cerebral quality that is unusual among the many heart-on-sleeve versions. I must admit I lean towards the heart-on-sleeve interpretations, but it was fascinating to hear so many inner voices featured and such a sense of priority in the architecture. For me, there needed to be more building along the way (especially in top melodic registers) from the very first accelerando of the first movement to the clangorous almost bell-like resonances later on, but disagreements are inevitable, and Mr. Farouk always showed persuasive commitment. Vive la difference – Mr. Farouk will not be without controversy!

To close the half (surprisingly, as one usually sees the Rachmaninoff Op. 36 closing a half), Mr. Farouk gave the U.S. premiere of “To Our Revolution’s Martyrs” by leading twentieth-century Egyptian composer Gamal Abdel-Rahiem (1924-1988). In two well-crafted movements, “Elegy” and “Clash” the music spoke of national struggles through a hybrid language of Arab and Western modalities (and outlines of diminished fourths never far). In light of 2011 events, it has an updated political resonance, perhaps the intent in Mr. Farouk’s programming; at any rate, it was particularly interesting simply to hear music of a composer who taught virtually an entire generation of Egyptian composers.

To open the second half, Mr. Farouk gave the World Premiere of “I Colored a Wanted Music I Can Always Hear”-  a tonally mild and quasi-impressionistic haiku-inspired composition by Scott Robbins (b. 1964). It was sensitively delivered, and the composer, present to take a bow, beamed with pleasure.

Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op. 32, No. 5 in G Major made a skillful transition back to the Russian world, specifically to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Here was the absolutely masterful playing of the evening. Mr. Farouk distilled the essence of each feeling and image in Mussorgsky’s phrases and gestures. Each highly contrasting movement was a gem of color and spirit, overflowing with energy and life right up through the final powerful chords. The audience leapt to its feet and was rewarded with three encores, the Gluck-Sgambati Melodie, Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32, No. 12 and the brilliantly played Liszt Paraphrase on Verdi’s Rigoletto. Bravo – and encore! While, nothing has eclipsed the memory of that Rachmaninoff Third Concerto of a year ago, I would still say:  run – don’t walk – to hear Wael Farouk!

Misoon Ghim, mezzo-soprano in Review

Misoon Ghim, mezzo-soprano
Amy Yang, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
April 22, 2013

What an auspicious New York debut vocal recital, as two wonderful performers, mezzo soprano Misoon Ghim and pianist Amy Yang, presented songs from five stylistic periods, sung beautifully in five languages. I was most impressed by the high quality of the music they chose, and how these works allowed both performers to exhibit the many aspects of their fine technique and deep musicality.

And what better way to open a program than with the words “Music for a while/ Shall all your cares beguile,” the opening lines of Henry Purcell’s setting of John Dryden’s poem “Music for a while.” I was pleased that the performers chose an edition with a stylistically correct keyboard part, rather than one with the souped-up accompaniments so often used by singers who aren’t Baroque specialists. Ms. Ghim possesses a beautiful bright voice which is produced with great ease. (Darker vocal colors were to appear later in the concert.) Another Purcell work,  “Dido’s Lament,” followed. Most moving was her heartfelt singing of the words “remember me” which showcased her thrilling upper register. I did wonder why Ms. Ghim chose to ornament repeated lines during “Dido’s Lament,” while failing to decorate the da capo of “Music for a while.”

Next we heard four songs by Brahms. During these works Ms. Ghim produced many vocal colors to express the meaning of the words. Most memorable was her performance of “Die Mainacht” where we first heard her moving dark sound. Pianist Amy Yang, very much an accompanist during the Purcell, was given her first chance to shine during these songs. Her rapid finger work imitating the sound of spinning wheels during “Mädchenlied” and her stormy accompaniment during “Mein Liebe ist grun” gave us a foretaste of many pleasures to come.

The first half ended with a superb performance of Mozart’s Concert Aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” As the accompaniment of this work was originally scored for orchestra with obbligato piano, one could think of this piece as a concerto for voice and piano. It was therefore exciting to hear both of these fine musicians vie for our attention. That Ms. Ghim has been a success on the opera stage was vividly shown by her expert performance of the expressive opening recitative, the lyrical first section of the aria and then its thrilling dramatic conclusion. This was wonderful singing. Equally wonderful as both accompanist and second soloist  was pianist Amy Yang.

That the recital’s second half would maintain the high quality of the first half was made clear during the opening moments of the first of Mahler’s “Fünf Rückertlieder,” “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft!” as Ms. Ghim spun out a most ravishing phrase. And at the climax of the intimate “Liebst du um Schönheit” she was very much the singing actress, as she lovingly caressed the words “o ja, mich liebe” (“oh yes, love me.”)  “Blicke mir nicht in die Lieder” allowed Ms. Ghim to show off her dark lower register and Ms. Yang to offer a sensitive accompaniment featuring a beautifully played left hand. Both performers shone during the very slow and quiet “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen.” But what sticks in my mind was Ms. Yang’s beautiful tone color and subtle phrasing, especially during the piano’s introduction, interludes and postlude. The last verse of “Um Mitternacht” brought the set to a goose-bump-producing- climax. For this listener, these Mahler songs were the highest point of a concert with many high points.

After a fine performance of Debussy’s “Fêtes galantes 1”, the program ended with “Cinco Cancione Negras” (“Five Black Songs”) by the Catalan composer Xavier Montsalvatge (1912-2002.) Employing Spanish and West Indian rhythms and themes, these songs lightened the mood and showed us another side of Ms. Ghim’s artistry. She and Ms. Yang brought the concert to a jolly conclusion with a wild rendition of the last song, “Canto negro.”

Thanks to the Korean Music Foundation for bringing these wonderful artists before a very appreciative New York audience.

Hristo Popov, violin; Per Enflo, piano in Review

Hristo Popov, violin; Per Enflo, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
March 13, 2013 

Violinist Hristo Popov and pianist Per Enflo have an extensive performance history as a duo, including many recordings and recent performances of all ten Beethoven violin sonatas.  Eastern Europe was the focal point of their recent concert, with music from Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary.

The first half of the program consisted of two works by the Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov (1899-1978). Vladigerov was one of the  founding fathers of modern Bulgarian music and many believe him to be the most influential Bulgarian composer ever. Chant, from the Bulgarian Suite, Op. 21, No. 2 opened the concert. This work, by a 28-year-old Vladigerov, is a good example of the composer’s evolution towards a national musical idiom based on folk material. The violin part has an improvisatory quality throughout.  Mr. Popov played with sensitivity and his singing tone in the high register was unfailingly exceptional. Mr. Enflo was an attentive partner throughout.  The rippling piano passagework over the pianissimo trill of the violin and gradual fade to final silence were striking. It was an auspicious start.

The earlier Violin Sonata in D Major (Op.1) is unabashedly romantic in its tonal language and form.  It is a work that owes much to the Russian tradition, especially to Tchaikovsky. Mr. Popov navigated the rapid changes in moods in the opening Agitato movement with confidence.  The second movement’s long piano introduction and extended solo in mid-movement allowed Mr. Enflo a starring role. The jaunty final movement was played by the duo with energy and panache in a stylish ending.

The second half opened with the Violin Sonata No. 3 in A minor, Op.25, by Georges Enesco (1881-1955).  Subtitled “Dans le caractère populaire roumain”, this is an expressive, melancholic work presenting challenges that are not immediately perceived by the average listener. Pianist and violinist are both “treated” to fiendish difficulties in what could be called “high-risk/low reward”- not an enticing prospect. Mr. Popov conveyed the lament of the first movement, the haunted dreams and poltergeist-like sounds of the second movement, and the grotesque, mocking march of the finale with intelligence and consummate skill. It would be so easy for a lesser player to lapse into over emotive despondence and turn this work into a mishmash of cheap effects better suited for a silent film soundtrack. This was a performance that separated the men from the boys, so to speak. It was the highlight of the concert, and it was especially gratifying to see the audience react with such enthusiasm.

Rhapsody No. 1 for Violin and Piano, Sz. 87, from Béla Bartók ended the program. Dedicated to the legendary Hungarian violinist Joseph Szigeti, the Rhapsody uses the slow–fast (lassúfriss) paired movements of the popular Hungarian dance verbunkos. The Lassú is folk music given Bartók’s characteristic treatment and was played by Mr. Popov with charm. The Friss movement continues the folk element, with one tune having a passing resemblance to “Simple Gifts”- a la Bartók, of course.  The duo built momentum to a frenzied pitch. A temporary respite in the form of bell-like tones on the piano set the stage for a winding up of the momentum once again.  Mr. Popov played with fire, and the final cadenza-like passage had  true demonic flair. It was an outstanding performance from start to finish.

Hristo Popov is a musician’s musician. Eschewing any empty showmanship, he invests his considerable skills in giving performances that place substance over effect.  It might not always be exciting to watch, but whatever “excitement” the eyes have been denied, the ears have not. He has a worthy collaborator in Mr. Enflo and it would be a pleasure to hear this fine duo in the future.

Adamant Music School: 72nd Anniversary in Review

Adamant Music School: 72nd Anniversary
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y.
March 10, 2013
Tadeusz Domanowski

Tadeusz Domanowski



Each year in Vermont’s historic quarry village of Adamant, pianists of all stripes converge for practicing, lessons, master classes, and relaxation at the Adamant Music School. For 72 years the school has demonstrated the strength of their local granite in continuing its summer program, as well as its tradition of annual New York recitals, not an easy feat in this difficult economy. This season Adamant presented eight pianists in Weill Recital Hall, including faculty and student participants. There was music of Schumann, Liszt, Debussy, Howard Bashaw (b.1957), and Marc-André Hamelin (the Etude No. 5), but I was there only for the last two works of Prokofiev and Chopin. Pianists Joni Chan and Tadeusz Domanowski represented their school well in what was a proud occasion for all involved.

Joni Chan

Joni Chan

Joni Chan performed the first movement (Allegro moderato) from Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No. 6 in A Major, Op. 82. She gave a measured and well-considered performance, which showed her to be a player of intelligence and integrity. Ms. Chan earned her BM, MM, and DMA at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and is currently teaching at Vincennes University in Indiana. As her biography states, she was recipient of a performer’s certificate for “outstanding graduate performance” from the piano faculty of the IU in 2006 and first prize in IU’s Mozart Concerto Competition in 2004, among other distinctions. She has performed widely throughout the US, Canada, and Hong Kong as soloist and collaborator. At the risk of overdoing the references to granite, Ms. Chan struck one as an extremely solid performer, one who has left no stone unturned in her study of the score (not to be confused with the violinists who famously leave “no tone un-Sterned”). All punning aside, nary a tone was even smudged, and one could probably take dictation from her scrupulously honest reading. Ms. Chan also showed plenty of strength in the fuller percussive dynamics, though my favorite performances of this work (the first of the three War Sonatas) have still greater projection of its dark irony. I also prefer to hear the Sonata in its totality, though one understands the time constraints in a group recital. Perhaps a stand-alone ten-minute work might fare better program-wise next time, but in any event Ms. Chan did a commendable job. Her thoroughness will be an asset to her students, and her steely reliability in performance bodes well for busy concert life.

To conclude the Adamant program, Tadeusz Domanowski played Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor (Op. 31). His was a fluent and confident reading that concluded the program with sweep and polish. Mr. Domanowski hails from Gliwice, Poland and is a graduate of the Frédéric Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw.  His performances as soloist with orchestra, chamber musician, and recitalist, have taken him to an impressive array of festivals in France, China, Greece, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, as well as the US, where he currently continues his studies at NYU. He has excellent technical facility at his disposal, combined with a good stylistic sense and strong stage presence. Brilliant and refined, Mr. Domanowski’s interpretation of the Chopin could also be described as suave. There was, in fact such a pervasive sense of ease that at times some passagework seemed almost too silken for this listener, leaving one wanting more of a sense of traction; this is a highly personal preference, however, as were some differences of opinion on rhythm and rubato in the more meditative A Major sections. I would have loved more sense of exploration at times, including the quiet end of the spectrum in leggiero passagework. A secure player such as Mr. Domanowski has all the groundwork in place for such musical journeys. Though it is hard to add to the performance history of a piece like this, with Rubinstein, Argerich, and countless other greats (followed by Kissin, Yundi Li, and more), Mr Domanowski undoubtedly has the potential to add his own special stamp. I look forward to hearing him again and heartily congratulate the Adamant Music School on both fine performers.

MidAmerica Productions presents “Vienna Meets Paris” in Review

MidAmerica Productions presents “Vienna Meets Paris”
Patrick Gallois, flute; Maria Prinz, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
March 4, 2013
Patrick gallois and Maria Prinz

Patrick gallois and Maria Prinz


French flutist Patrick Gallois and Vienna- based pianist Maria Prinz combined their talents in a program called “Vienna Meets Paris”, the first half dedicated to Vienna, and the second half, Paris. Their no-nonsense manner upon entering the stage reflected the lives of busy professionals, but from the first sterling tones it was obvious that this was going to be something memorable.

Opening with Mr. Gallois’s arrangement of the Sonata in F major, K. 376 of Mozart, the duo gave notice that they were one with this piece, which one might expect as they have recently recorded this work for Naxos (http://www.naxos.com/catalogue/item.asp?item_code=8.573033). Ms. Prinz, who has collaborated with other prominent flutists, never allowed her playing to become overpowering, even though the piano was on the full stick.  It is also a credit to Mr. Gallois that he projected his playing with such ability that he was never in any danger of being covered.  Mr. Gallois has a full-bodied tone that sings and soars, but never allows any overblowing. He also has an assured technique that allows him to make short work of difficult passages. It was an auspicious start.

Beethoven’s National Airs with variations, Op.105 and Op. 107 were commissioned by the Scottish folk-song collector and publisher George Thompson. A Schüsserl und a Reindel, Op. 105, No. 3 and St. Patrick’s Day, Op 107, No. 4, were featured. As per the request of Thompson (“You must write the variations in a familiar, easy, and slightly brilliant style, so that the greatest number of our ladies can play and enjoy them”), Beethoven gives the pianist the bulk of the difficulty in some brilliant writing. Even “easy” pieces can be dangerous, but Mr. Gallois did not fall into this trap. He played with finesse, adding his own touches of brilliance, while Ms. Prinz’s star shone brightly in what really are piano works with flute added. Ending the first half, three Schubert songs, Gute Nach, Das Fischermädchen and Ständchen, as transcribed by Theobald Böhm (1794-1881). Böhm, who can be considered the father of the modern Western flute and the corresponding fingering system still In use, did for the flute what Liszt did for the piano in his transcriptions of these songs.  Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz played these songs with flair, but also with sensitivity.  It was a thoughtful and melodious departure from Vienna.

The second half took the listener to Paris with three works by French composers written explicitly for the flute. Philippe Gaubert (1879-1941) wrote in the style of his great contemporaries Franck, Debussy, and Ravel.  His Sonata for Flute and Piano No. 2 is unmistakably impressionistic in its tonal form and written with idiomatic detail that one would expect from one so familiar with the flute. Mr. Gallois captured the singing lines, the magical, and the mystical with what seemed to be the greatest of ease. This is not at all surprising considering the connection Mr. Gallois has with this work. The baton has been passed through the generations when considers the musical genealogy – Gaubert to his student Marcel Moyse to his student Joseph Rampal, to his son Jean-Pierre, to Jean-Pierre’s student Gallois.

La merle noire (The Blackbird) from Olivier Messiaen followed. Written in 1952 as a test piece for the Paris Conservatoire, this short composition was one of Messiaen’s earliest works to use the concept of notated birdsong, which was a life-long fascination of him. Mr. Gallois captured the warbling element with great imagination, and both he and Ms. Prinz conveyed its dizzying effects in a captivating performance. The Sonata for Flute and Piano by Francis Poulenc closed the program. This work is among the best-loved and most frequently performed works in the flute repertoire. It was composed with Jean-Pierre Rampal in mind. In his memoirs, Rampal mentions a phone call from Poulenc- “Jean-Pierre,” said Poulenc, “you know you’ve always wanted me to write a sonata for flute and piano? Well, I’m going to, “he said. “And the best thing is that the Americans will pay for it! I’ve been commissioned by the Coolidge Foundation to write a chamber piece in memory of Elizabeth (Sprague) Coolidge. I never knew her, so I think the piece is yours.”  Brimming with brilliance, this work is vintage Poulenc, and a successful performance requires a player who can “do it all”. Mr. Gallois brought out the bursts of optimistic energy with confidence in the first movement, the longing, wistfulness of the second movement, and the joyous whimsy of the “off to the races” finale. Ms. Prinz was with him every step of the way. Played with élan, it was a winning performance. Encores followed, of which I especially liked the “Meditation” from Massenet’s Thaïs, played with delicate beauty.

A final thought – it was particularly striking how synchronized Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz were throughout. It was as if they were of the same mind, a “mind-meld” that found them in perfect ensemble without any visual contact or physical cues such as nodding.  I have seen other duos that had excellent rapport, but this was truly something above and beyond the norm.  This is a pairing that has unlimited potential if they decide to continue as a duo.

James Jeonghwan Kim in Review

James Jeonghwan Kim, cello
Larry Wang, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall; New York, NY
February 3, 2013
James Kim

James Kim: Photo credit: Ryan Moon

There are debuts and debuts:  the blood bank of human endeavor is forever bringing new musical talent to the fore. But I daresay, the recital of a 19-year-old cellist at Weill Hall on February 3rd was more than merely excellent, it was an historical coming of a fully honed master virtuoso; one is compelled to formulate new standards for the golden instrument!

Young Mr. Kim came to us with formidable credentials. The young artist was born in Seoul, Korea in 1993 and began his studies with Susan Moses, with whom he worked for five years at the University of Indiana in Bloomington. During this time he also received tutelage from Janos Starker, and later from Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory. He also enrolled at the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, and is currently studying at Yale with Aldo Parisot. It goes without saying that during his apprenticeship to some of the most illustrious and revered pedagogues of his instrument, Mr. Kim has garnered competition prizes and performance laurels (e.g. The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall; the NEC Youth Orchestra at Jordan Hall; the Korean Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra in his native South Korea– just to cite a few of his accomplishments–before making his official debut at Weill Hall).

But all of this foregoing is commonplace: after a few astonishing and beautifully tapered, long spun phrases of Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata, D.821, this astonished and experienced connoisseur realized that James Kim is a miracle. Never mind my hyperbole; the absolute perfection of his playing, technically, musically and communicatively, had me recalling Casals, Fournier, Rostropovich and Tortelier (of a very different school) but likewise, Feuermann, Yo-Yo-Ma, Miklós Perényi, Heifetz (of a closely analogous virtuoso persuasion), and of course Kim’s mentors, Starker and Parisot. Never before, have I encountered such winged ease, such airborne joy, such silken smooth bowing and tone production. All of these facets were present at the service of stylistic knowledge, bracing rhythmic thrust and most importantly, an inviting warmth and modest honesty.

The Schubert Sonata was played with the first movement repeat, forward momentum and necessary flexibility. Kim’s assisting pianist, Larry Weng, a pupil of Boris Berman at Yale, supplied spot-on ensemble and concentration. He also won a “Brownie Point” by using the Barenreiter Edition, with its corrected harmonies in the central Adagio.

The Debussy D Minor Sonata that followed also had the requisite impetuosity and unpredictability. Altogether, a volatile, wonderfully shaded and exquisitely timed rendition from both protagonists.

Isang Yun’s short unaccompanied piece, “Glissees pour violoncello seul”, especially written for a competition in 1970, makes, as intended, fiendishly difficult demands on the player, but Kim mastered these hurdles as if they were child’s play.

The Mendelssohn D Major Sonata, Op. 58 (more frequently played than its predecessor, No. 1 in B-Flat) took off in a shower of gravel, a galloping interpretation (with pianist Weng as an ideal co-jockey).

There was an encore, too: Rostropovich’s Humoreske, which resembled David Popper’s “Elfentanz”, albeit with an unfamiliar, sinister spice.

Novus String Quartet in Review

Novus String Quartet
Jae-Young Kim, Violin
Young-Uk Kim, Violin
Seung-Won Lee, Viola
Woong-Whee Moon, Cello
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall
January 24, 2013
Novus String Quartet

Novus String Quartet

In a Carnegie concert sponsored by Sejong Soloists, the Novus String Quartet did an excellent job of presenting stylistically authentic performances of varied music by Mozart, Ligeti, and Dvorak. The Mozart was particularly impressive, as its exposed, transparent strands were beautifully shaped with clean textures and impeccable intonation. The violinists Jae-Young Kim and Young-Uk Kim, the violist Seung-Won Lee, and the cellist Woong-Whee Moon were all rhythmically in sync too. The challenging Ligeti String Quartet No. 1, “Metamorphoses Nocturnes”, poses its share of complexities, and Novus handled obstacles with ease. They were well-prepared.

Their preparation was also in evidence with Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 13 in G Major, a late opus composed near the time of the cello concerto. The work has both the transparencies of the Mozart and the dense counterpoint of the Ligeti, and Novus solved difficulties with aplomb, presenting a fluid, confident performance of the first order. On top of that, they homogeneously sang out Dvorak’s expressive folk-like music with charm and eloquence.

This ensemble will go far. They clearly have an affinity for the classical style, but also modern works and romantic staples. In an effort to broaden their repertoire, they are currently taking the Konzertexamen degree course under the guidance of Christoph Poppen and Hariolf Schlichtig at the Hochschule fur Musik und Theater Munchen (Academy of Music and performing Arts Munich) . Over the last five years, (the group was founded in 2007 by violinist Jae-Young Kim), Novus has been the recipient of many prizes and awards, such as at the Lyon International, the Osaka, the Haydn, and the ARD in Germany. Most recently, Novus has appeared at the Seoul Spring Chamber Festival, and the highlight of the season was marked by their performance tour through Costa Rica, El Salvador and Panama, sponsored by the Korea Foundation. The tour not only attracted wide media attention and great audience response, but it helped bring together the music and talented artists of Korea and Latin American countries. This is commendable work. They seem interested in bringing their collective talent to places and people that are under-nourished in classical music. They are the right group to do this, as they are building a broad repertoire and presenting it with charisma and skill.