Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Picturesque New Album and a Williamsburg Show From a Classical Piano Adventurer

Liza Stepanova’s new album Tones & Colors is not about synesthesia. Instead, the pianist explores the connection between visual art and classical music from across the centuries via an ambitiously vast, meticulously played range of works beginning with Bach and ending in our time with George Crumb. She’s playing the album release show this Jan 6 at 7 PM at National Sawdust; advance tix are $25. Considering that she’s sold out Carnegie Hall in the past, picking up a ticket now wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Stepanova smartly programs the album as she would a concert. It opens with a triptych of Spanish composers, followed by a quartet of pieces devoted to nature and impressionism. From there she makes her way through music influenced by art from previous eras, then gives the album a comfortable finale and a surprising encore.

She opens on a boisterous note with Granados’ The Strawman. Stepanova’s emphatic wave motion as the waltz picks up steam makes perfect sense considering that the piece is inspired by Goya’s painting The Straw Manikin, which depicts a group of women throwing a stuffed man back and forth. Is there cynical battle-of-the-sexes commentary in the music as well? That’s hard to say, but there’s humor and more than a hint of sarcasm in this performance.

Bury Them And Be Silent, from Moroccan-born composer Maurice Ohana’s 1944 suite Three Caprices is one of the rare treasures here. Another piece inspired by Goya – in this case, a grim Napoleonic War-era tableau – is the inspiration. Stepanova takes the listener on a morose stroll to graveside shock and then back – it’s arguably the high point of the album. Then she cascades, ripples and lingers in the colorful battle imagery of a Turina work inspired by a Velasquez celebration of medieval Spanish conquest.

Another rarity began as a collaboration between 19th century German composer Fanny Hensel (nee Mendelssohn) and her painter husband Wilhelm, who illustrated her score. Stepanova’s agent could license this to innumerable horror or suspense films: its broodingly circling, baroque-tinged ilnes compare with anything any composer of soundtracks is doing in a neoromantic vein these days.

Stepanova makes jaunty work of Martinu’s Butterflies in the Flowers, which draws on the lepidopterous oeuvre of painter Max Švabinský. Debussy’s Goldfish ostensibly is not meant to be a depiction of fishbowl life but a musical attempt to mimic the layering often used in 19th century Japanese art: with a light touch on its machinegun rhythm, Stepanova maxes out its dynamics and contrasts.

Sculptor Heinrich Neugeboren once created a piece meant to capture a pivotal moment in Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in E-flat minor, BWV 853, from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Stepanova gives the opening segment a romantic treatment in contrast to the sculpture’s architecture. Then she has fun with the muted inside-the-piano voicings of George Crumb’s Giotto-inspired, characteristically mystical miniature, Adoration of the Magi.

The most obscure work on the album is a careful, Bach-inspired fugue, one of only a few compositions written by 20th century painter Lyonel Feininger. Stepanova closes this concert in a box with a lively, understatedly precise performance of Liszt’s solo piano version of Wagner’s Overture to Tannhäuser. The first of the encores is György Ligeti’s Etude No. 14,  parsing the geometrics of a column by sculptor Constantin Brâncuşi with cell-like boogie-woogie allusions. The final number is a selection from late Romantic composer Leopold Godowsky’s cheery musical homage to the French rococo painter Antoine Watteau. The album hasn’t officially hit the web yet, consequently, no streaming link – stay tuned!

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December 28, 2017 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karine Poghosyan Reinvents Late Romantic Piano Classics with Spot-On Humor and Sensational Chops

It’s hard to imagine a more colorful pianist in Manhattan than Karine Poghosyan, which comes as no surprise when you learn that she’s the daughter of the great Armenian-American painter Razmik Pogosyan. She’s got a larger-than-life stage persona, striking costumes, fearsome technique, and an irrepressible sense of humor. No other pianist seems to have as much fun onstage as she does: anyone who thinks that classical music is stuffy needs to see this fearless spirit in action. Last night at the DiMenna Center, she earned a couple of standing ovations for her signature, breathtaking pyrotechnics but also for her counterintutive insight and unselfconsciiously deep, meticulous, individualistic interpretation of a daunting program of works by Grieg, Liszt, Komitas Vardapet and Stravinsky.

She divided the program into two parts, essentially: reckless abandon, then spellbinding, rapidfire phantasmagoria. The attention to detail and revelatory, dynamic approach she brought to a trio of lyric pieces by Grieg – To Spring, Minuet: Vanished Days, and the famous Wedding Day at Troldhaugenand – gave each a cinematic sweep that puts to shame the kind of rote versions you might hear on WQXR. The first was as suspenseful as it was verdant: Poghosyan is unsurpassed at finding fleeting details and jokes that other players might gloss over, and then bringing them front and center, whether that might have been a defiant “take that!” swipe at the low keys, or a “yessss!” moment when a big crescendo reached exit velocity. And what a surprise the last of the three turned out to be. Where others find straight-up pageantry, Poghosyan channeled sarcasm and subtle parody. As the big processional took shape, Grieg might not have been throwing a stinkbomb at the assembly of Nordic gentry, but he was definitely putting something in the punch bowl.

Poghosyan did the exact opposite with the Liszt. Where other players would most likely find bombast, she looked for poignancy and then brought that out, with shapeshifting interpretations of three Hungarian Rhapsodies. After the intermission (and a new gown, and a ponytail to keep her hair in check as she swayed and flung her head back) she followed with her own innovative, harmonically rich arrangement of three bittersweet miniatures from the Komitas Vardapet book. Komitas, widely considered to be the father of modern Armenian music, was a sort of Middle Eastern amalgam of Allen Lomax and Bela Bartok, and his exhaustive archive – compiled under cruelly difficult circumstances – deserves to be vastly better known. Hypnotically stately motives gave way to what could have been the roots of Erik Satie as the balletesque pulse grew more prominent, glistening in its otherworldly unresolve.

Poghosyan wound up the bill with three movements from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka: how she managed to maintain such fluid, legato phrasing at such high volume, with such a pummeling attack, defies the imagination. But it wasn’t always so seamless. As clever and amusing as the first part of the bill was, she was all business, matching surgical precision to chainsaw ferocity through the anvil chorus of the Russian Dance, then the surrealism and schizophrenic contrasts in Chez Petrouchka – in Poghosyan’s hands, a loony puppet to rival anything Schoenberg ever envisioned. The closing theatrics of Le Semaine Grasse were riveting in every sense of the word, her dynamic shifts giving her extra headroom for raising the rafters with its gritty, ironic, harrowingly difficult closing cascades.

This performance was staged by Project 142, whose popularity as a house concert series on the Upper West Side outgrew its original West End Avenue digs. They’ve since found a new home at the DiMenna Center: their next concert there, on June 12 at 3 PM features solo and chamber music by female composers Jessie Montgomery, Margaret Bonds, Ethel Smyth, Florence Price and Rebecca Clark. Cover is $15.

May 23, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Alexandra Joan Brings Her Imagination and Intuition to a Solo Show at Bargemusic

On one hand, it’s risky to call a classical pianist an individualist. In some circles, that might imply that the artist takes liberties which could range from debatable, to suspect, to completely unwanted. On the other hand, pianist Alexandra Joan has such fearsome technique that she’s able to interpret whatever emotion she can evince from the material in front of her. And when that’s unexpected, as it often is, it’s a revelation. Classical musicians are expected from their earliest days at conservatory to be all things to all people and all music, and Joan’s performances in the recent past have reflected those demands. With that in mind, there’s no question that she likes the Romantics, yet she’s also a great advocate for new music and especially the protean and colorful Mohammed Fairouz. And she likes a challenge, which is exactly what she’ll tackle this Friday, December 11 at 8 PM at Bargemusic where she’ll contend with a program including works by Bach, Arvo Part, Elliott Carter, Kaija Saariaho and Schumann’s famously difficult Etudes Symphoniques. Cover is $35/$30 srs/$15 stud., and early arrival is advised; Joan is popular.

Her most recent solo album is titled Dances and Songs. Interestingly, the most striking piece on it isn’t the physically taxing Liszt works, or the richly enigmatic Ravel Valses Nobles et Sentimentales; it’s Bach’s English Suite No. 3 in G Minor. She plays it as if she was playing a harpsichord, giving full weight to the ornamentation and grace notes, proportionate to the rest of the score rather than lettting them just flit off the page. It’s a neat trick, and one that requires vastly more lightness of touch and completely different technique than if she was playing an actual harpsichord. And then, she finds the one part of the suite where she can make the greatest contrast with what, up to then, has been just short of lickety-split, and the effect is explosive. At that point, she hits a dirge tempo, so slow that it seems that the rhythm has fallen conpletely out. Essentially, she looked for the one place where she could wring every ounce of contrast (and raw, unvarnished angst) out of it, and pulled it off.

The album opens with a precise, emphatic take of Valse-Caprice No. 6 from Liszt’s Soirees de Vienne; she’ll return to waltzing Liszt at the end of the program to bring the album full circle. As the Ravel picks up steam from a stately tempo, Joan lets the distant gleam shine through, seemingly allowing the cascades to tumble from her hands rather than evoking a climb in one direction or another. It seems effortless even though it’s not.

After the intensity of the Bach, Liszt’s take of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman offers a dynamically shifting emotional respite. However, Joan’s muted approach at the end sets up another far more moody performance, Lizst’s arrangement of Schubert’s Der Doppelganger. Such segues are typical in her repertoire: she can’t resist making a connection where she can find one. The album isn’t up at any of the usual streaming spots, although Joan’s performances are well represented on youtube and at Instantencore.

December 7, 2015 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pianist Judit Gabos Plays a Brilliantly Enlightening, Eclectic Portrait of Bela Bartok

Romanian-born Judit Gabos was Gyorgy Ligeti’s go-to pianist, so it’s no surprise that she would negoatiate a series of pieces from the composer’s rhythmically challenging Musicaricercata as precisely and effortlessly nimbly as she did in a “composer portrait” of Bela Bartok at the Hungarian Consulate last night. And as much as her performance of works by Bartok and Liszt were nothing less than a revelation, the icing on the cake was how she took the audience on a journey that connected the dots between the late Romantic period and postminimalism. Piano music doesn’t often get performed with as much insight and emotionally attuned prowess as Gabos gave to this program

She opened with Liszt’s Sursumcorda, explaining that Bartok often played it in concert early in his career. It’s awash in resonant lustre that eventually gives way to…well, it’s Liszt, you know what’s coming, it’s just a matter of time before the pyrotechnics appear. So an aptly triumphant, blazing take of Bartok’s Allegro Barbaro made for a good segue. Then Bartok the individualist appeared. Gabos reveled in the creepily cartoonish hide-and-seek of the dyptich Out of Doors, raising the question of whether or how much Raymond Scott or Bernard Herrmann might have stolen from its poltergeist cinematics.

Gabos then spanned the emotional spectrum, illustrating both Bartok’s meticulousness as a musicologist as well as his irrepressible penchant for using folk themes as a launching pad for his signature, thorny blend of chromatics and rustically bracing close harmonies. She began with his suite of Three Folk Songs from Csik County, then his expansive Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20 and closed with a rousing take of his Romanian Folk Dance. On one hand, the Ligeti pieces afterward couldn’t help but be anticlimactic even as they offered a look at where one composer springboarded off of Bartok. But Gabos’ decision to close with a change of pace, a rather stately, consonantly anthemic segment brought the program full circle: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

This recital was staged by the Balassi Institute, who program all sorts of excellent Hungarian cultural events around the globe. The next one in New York is a concert by adventurous large jazz ensemble the Modern Art Orchestra downstairs at Symphony Space on November 11, with sets at 6:15 and 7:30 PM; advance tix are $16.

October 13, 2015 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alexandra Joan Sings Through Her Fingers at Bargemusic

“Just about every piece of music that we can play is a song,” pianist Alexandra Joan nonchalantly told the audience at her luminous performance Thursday night at Bargemusic. That pretty much explains everything you need to know about her. Matter-of-factly and meticulously, she built a dynamically rich program with lyrical, cantabile, highly individualistic interpretations of a diverse program. from Bach to early Modernism, most of the works taken from her new album Dances and Songs.

She explained to the crowd that while not everything on the album is a dance per se, the material on it shares a kinetic character. She began the evening with a suite of Chopin mazurkas that aren’t on the album, but they turned out to make an apt opening salvo, Joan giving the audience a sort of guided tour via ample but judicious amounts of rubato, as if to say, “Watch this, here comes a really good one!”

Her take of Bach’s English Suite in G Minor, BWV 808 was especially gripping, not only because it’s an interesting piece of music, but because of how she accented the work’s rigorous and challenging ornamentation, awash in grace notes and trills. That made Bach’s tight rhythm all the more of a suspenseful contrast – and the plaintiveness of the second movement all the more affecting. Likewise, the high point of the night was Liszt’s solo piano arrangement from Schubert’s Der Doppelganger, vividly giving voice to a guy who can’t figure out if he’s himself or someone else and is completely lost as a result.

The program lightened from there, but just a little, with an edgy, acerbic run through Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, drawing a straight line back to the Schubert suite that inspired them even if the tonalities were from a completely different idiom (and radical enough in Ravel’s day to get him slammed by the critics). Joan ended the night on a celebratory note with the “champagne bubbles” of a couple of lighthearted if cruelly challenging Liszt pieces, the Valse Impromptu and then his whirling arrangement of the Spinning Chorus from Wagner’s Flying Dutchman. Which in turn made her careful, plaintive Debussy encore all the more astringently gripping. Joan is also an impresario, so the idea of going from Bach to Romantic to Modern and linking it all together is less unlikely (and less ostentatious) for her than it would be for a lot of other pianists. She’s appearing next with the fantastic Grneta Ensemble performing Gerald Cohen’s Sea of Reeds at le Poisson Rouge on Nov 11 at 6 PM; advance tix are $15 and very highly recommended.

October 25, 2014 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Auspicious Survey of the Ages by Pianist Mackenzie Melemed

It’s always a good sign when a pianist’s best-performed pieces onstage are by Chopin and Rachmaninoff. Last night at the sonically superb auditorium at Temple Emanu-El just off Central Park, Mackenzie Melemed played a diverse program spanning from baroque to modern and excelled at all of it. There are other good eighteen-year-old pianists out there; what distinguishes Melemed from his peers is how attuned he is to emotional content. That, and blazing technique.

Melemed bookended the highly ornamented animation of Bach’s Aria Variata alla Maniera Italiana, BWV 989 with opening and concluding statements that were downright elegaic. After making his way through the alternately elegant and torrentially waltzing initial movements of Beethoven’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 26, Melemed sensed the proto-Chopin in the murky third movement and brought that plaintive foreshadowing into the dirge. And he gave a saturnine, deeply felt reading to Brahms’ Four Piano Pieces, Op. 119. These are late works, in fact the last that the composer wrote for solo piano, a bittersweet over-the-shoulder narrative that finally reaches to a heroic overture, giving Melemed a chance to air out a blazing fortissimo. Obviously, there are dynamics in all but the Bach that suggest specific emotions. But Melemed clearly didn’t just have those works in his fingers (he played from memory); they were in his head.

A brisk, precise take of a Scarlatti sonata was the curtain-lifter. Melemed established a similar upward trajectory after the intermission with a matter-of-factly crescendoing and eventually wrenching, emphatic take on Liszt’s Funerailles, then four Rachmaninoff Etude-Tableaux. These little preludes are brief but extremely challenging: Melemed charged through diabolically difficult, lightning-fast chromatics, a vivid two-handed conversation or two, stygian spaciousness versus twilit glitter and seemed to be having a ball – you would too, if you had the technique to play them. He wound up the concert with similarly acrobatic romps through Avner Dorman’s recent, equally knotty, picturesque Three Etudes. Melemed speed-painted Sundrops Over Windy Water, let the spacious, jazz-tinged block chords of the Funeral March linger and concluded with Snakes and Ladders, a showstopper with its rumbling low lefthand, crazily dancing motives and machinegunning chromatics. Sensing that the need for more fireworks was in order, he encored with a magnificent, express-train coda, Chopin’s famous Winter Wind Etude, Op. 25, No. 11.

The Sunday concert series here features a lot of similar first-rate, up-and-coming talent. The next concert is January 19 at 3 PM with pianist Hannah Sun.

December 16, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Powerful, Purposeful New York Concert by Pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis

Monday night at Merkin Concert Hall, Greek pianist George-Emmanuel Lazaridis played a powerful, determinedly intuitive performance of Schubert and Liszt plus his own works, which were the most interesting and dynamic of all the pieces on the bill. Lazaridis showed off world-class technique but also world-class touch: the murmurs carried just as much weight as the crushing cadenzas.

He opened with Schubert’s “Wanderer” Sonata, which as he played it didn’t wander at all: this was an epic with a clear trajectory and denouement, through the cruelly difficult, machinegunning counterpoint of the big block chords on the opening allegro movement, a vividly cantabile take of the adagio and then a dazzling climb to the big, Beethovenesque payoff at the end. Lazaridis’ unwaveringly decisive central tempo and matter-of-factness gave him a strong central anchor for Schubert’s colorful digressions and ornamentation.

He closed the program with Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor, S. 178, which is sort of Liszt for people who don’t like Liszt. He began and eventually ended with an almost rubato approach to the composers’s lingering, minimalistically rapt themes, saving plenty of firepower for the characteristically Lisztian, wide-angle pyrotechnics. But the highlight of the bill was a trio of segments from Lazaridis’ own Trojan Cycle. The concert’s emcee explained beforehand that the suite is not meant to be a blow-by-blow portrayal of the Iliad but an exploration of its characters’ emotional currents, particularly their overwhelming sense of doom. This came immediately to the surface on the enigmatically brooding Achilles Mourning, where the warrior sees his own end and everyone else’s around him coming up over the horizon. Artfully blending twelve-tone acidity and moodily narrative neoromanticism, it set the stage for Andromache, which in many ways was a history of the piano beginning with Schumann, through Alban Berg and Schoenberg and then back in time again, a hauntingly surreal portrait lit up with all sorts of unexpected rhythmic and dynamic shifts. The final piece was the Battlefield Toccata, which segued aptly with the Liszt: it was the most cinematic, and explosive, of all Lazaridis’ original works on this bill and a tantalizing encouragement for the packed house to go looking for the rest of the suite. This concert was presented by the Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation; if the rest of their programming is like this, it’s worth seeking out.

October 2, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Karine Poghosyan Illuminates Inner Journeys at St. Vartan’s

Last June, pianist Karine Poghosyan played an insightful, fascinating, emotionally gripping program of rarely-played works by her Armenian compatriot Aram Khachaturian at what’s become her more-or-less New York home base, the sonically superb St. Vartan’s Cathedral in Murray Hill. Poghosyan has such technical skill that the question of how she would tackle any program is reduced to that one word: how? She’s a passionate advocate of Khachaturian’s music, and shone just as much light this time out on a bill focusing on inner journeys and struggles from composers considerably better known here.

She played from memory, opening with a liquid, legato version of Liszt’s solo piano arrangement of Schubert’s Ave Maria. In her hands, it became a love song, a glimmering lullaby of sorts as she caressed its gently lingering tonalities. For the second piece, Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in D Major, she was joined by the sensationally precise, inspired ten-piece string ensemble the St. Vartan Chamber Orchestra (Annette Homann, Sabina Torosjan, Gabriel Giles, Muneyoshi Takahashi and Roan Ma on violins; Kristina Giles and Catherine Wynder on violas; Seulki Lee and Edward Kim on cellos and Bradley Lovelace on bass) for a kinetic, equally attuned performance. This interpretation of Bach didn’t necessarily swing but, wow, they made it dance. And early on it was a danse macabre, bristling with minor-key chromatics through the opening allegro and what became a matter-of-factly wrenching adagio that followed. And yet the ensemble seemed to be having a great time with it. Poghosyan isn’t the kind of pianist who keeps her cards close to her vest: throughout the triptych, there were what seemed dozens of “yessssss” moments flickering across her face and between the group members, which all paid off with the concluding allegro movement and its indomitable sense of triumph. That she’d put this piece at the center of the program speaks for how thoughtfully put together it was.

Poghosyan went back to contemplative mode for Liszt’s Spolizio, from his Years of Pilgrimage suite, following its winding but methodical trajectory from rapt to heroic, and back and forth: the push-pull of the dynamics became a cinematic song without words. She closed with Liszt’s “Dante Sonata,” and maybe surprisingly, maybe not so surprisingly, she eschewed the temptation to follow its demonic chromatics and crushingly difficult block chords into grand guignol. Instead, this journey through hell and heaven was a travelogue, Poghosyan sometimes seeming to prefer illuminating its more obscure spirals and vistas rather than the obvious themes. And this approach worked like a charm because it gave her what amounted to unlimited headroom when she finally dug in and roared through the coda. It’s rare to hear Liszt played with such sensitivity. These concerts at St. Vartans are not frequent, but when the church has them, they’re excellent. There’s an intriguing program on November 20 at 7:30 PM with violinist Nune Melikian and pianist Raisa Kargamonova playing works by Babadjanian, Khachaturian, Markov and Kreisler; there’s also an as-yet unnamed “superstar” organist playing the high-powered digital organ here on March 26 of next year at the same time.

September 26, 2013 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cross-Pollination at the Gershwin with Inna Faliks

Virtuoso pianist Inna Faliks’ latest installment of her innovative Music/Words series last night was a throwback to the Paris salons of the late 1800s, in the aptly lowlit atmosphere of the back room at the Gershwin Hotel. As she describes it, the concept of the series is to match music with poetry that shares a mood or evokes similar emotions, rather than referring to specific ideas or events. As an attempt to link two worlds that otherwise don’t usually intersect, it’s an admirable idea. Musically, this program was extremely diverse, spanning from classical to late Romantic, with Faliks pulling one of the obscurities she’s so fond of out of the woodwork as well. Lyrically, it was surreal, impactful, and relevant. Poet Tom Thompson doesn’t waste words: he finds the logic in cruel irony, assembles scenes vividly yet economically, and makes connections – like the commonalities in the desires of a child at play and a hungry spider – that might seem farfetched at face value but make perfect sense as he describes them (spiders got a lot of time this time out). “The lake is tired of being a mirror…it closes its one historical eye before we ever get to use it,” he observed bleakly. In an understatedly moving account of his son’s experience with seizures, Thompson coldly acknowledged how in one culture, people who suffer from them get killed, while in another they’re worshipped. A New York water tower became a “wholly owned subsidiary” of the dead leaves that get under the screws that hold it together; people and insects in Central Park shared a fate brought on by their inability to escape their desires. If insightfully ominous, loaded imagery is your thing, Thompson has a couple of collections out from alicejamesbooks that you should investigate.

The music was good too. In between trios of poems, Faliks alternated with pianist Dimitri Dover, who warmed up the performance with the Haydn’s uncharacteristically pensive Sonata in C Minor., Hob. 16:20. A bit later, he played three selections from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, the best being the anxiously stately “Montagues and Capulets” scene followed by Mercutio’s scampering cinematics. He joined Faliks for a perfectly synchronized four-handed take of another uncharacteristic piece, Liszt’s reflective, remarkably terse Symphonic Poem #4: Orpheus, eventually ending the show with three intuitive, energetic Debussy preludes and then a rather stern take on Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, Op. 31.

Although the program put her on the bill lower than Dover and Thompson, Faliks was still the star of this show, playing with her signature blend of lithe grace and raw power, particularly as she made her way through the nocturnal scenes of Liszt’s Harmonies du Soir, and then the composer’s transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella, which she imbued with playful charm and then maintained it all the way through the dance’s knotty, rapidfire thicket of staccato. Her obscurity du jour turned out to be 20th century Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s Basso Ostinato, a fascinatingly biting, expansively acidic prelude that built from a walking bassline to echoes of Alban Berg and Vincent Persichetti. Faliks’ next program in the Music/Words series, on April 22 at 7:30 PM at the Cornelia Street Cafe with Brazilian pianist Clarice Assad and poet Irina Mashinski promises to be equally intriguing.

February 11, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, poetry, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lisztmania Finally Starts to Make Sense

“All hands can play Liszt,” emcee David Dubal asserted in front of what appeared to be a full house Wednesday night at WMP Concert Hall, introducing this season’s debut of pianist/impresario Alexandra Joan’s Kaleidoscope Series.

“Yeah, right,” a fellow pianist in the crowd murmured to his friend. That opinion is widely held, often fueled by frustration at being unable to master the composer’s work, but also by the perception that Liszt’s notoriously challenging compositions are ostentatiously shallow. This year being the bicentenary of the composer’s birth, the Liszt tributes and retrospectives have been endless, and underwhelming. Which made this particular program such an eye-opener. Pianist Eric Clark also deserves credit for offering a revealing look at a different side of the composer a couple months ago; Joan’s take on Liszt was even more enlightening, especially since she played a handful of obscure pieces associated with the composer. Dubal may have had something to do with this, having been her teacher at Juilliard.

And he offered fresh insight into the program, providing a broader historical context as well as the history of the pieces themselves: Dubal is a big-picture guy, and a fearlessly unreconstructed Lisztian. The Valse-Impromptu that Joan opened with, he said, was a prototype for parlor music of its era. And it sounded like that, generically lively: it hasn’t aged well. But Joan has an ear for depth and a flair for the unconventional, so the choice of Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Fruhlingslaube was characteristically striking, a slowly expansive, meticulously paced pastorale. The Funerailles from Liszt’s Harmonies Poetiques et Religieuses, which followed, was a quiet, mournful knockout. Dubal reminded that this was a requiem for the freedom fighters who unsuccessfully fought in the Hungarian uprising of 1849. Restrained almost to the point of minimalism in places, fueled by a stark series of low lefthand riffs, it’s Chopinesque to a fault, rarely played, and Joan let it linger, powerfully: quiet as it is, it was the high point of the night. By contrast, she hit the Transcendental Etude No. 10 in F Minor – which she segued into artfully – with a hard-hitting scamper.

Dubal nailed it when he said that Schubert’s Der Doppelganger was “literally schizophrenic” – Joan played up its spacious, mysterious aspects. And she gave Liszt’s Ballade No. 2 in B Minor a precision that managed to be biting without losing sight of its warm cantabile resonance, another quality that doesn’t exactly spring to mind when thinking of Liszt. The Valse-Caprice No. 2 after Schubert’s Soirees de Vienne was warm and bright, if not much more than simply a testament to Liszt’s loyalty as an advocate of Schubert at a time when that wasn’t exactly cool.

The final composition was the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust, “one of those crazy pieces,” as Joan alluded afterward, where any hope for any kind of interpretive insight bit the dust. Liszt’s arrangement is so elaborately showy that the opportunity to imbue it with soul, or poignancy – Joan’s signature traits – falls by the wayside. To simply get through it and get the notes all right is an achievement in itself. And that she did, an athletic feat made all the more impressive considering that the heavy action of the Bosendorfer she was playing probably would have given Art Tatum a workout. The result, predictably, was a series of standing ovations, ironic to the extreme considering the earlier part of the program was a far more noteworthy achievement. Should every pianist have some Liszt in his or her fingers, as Dubal suggested? A bit of the lesser-known Liszt, that Joan showcased so admirably here, couldn’t hurt.

And not only is Dubal a savvy historian, he’s also a painter, a very eclectic one. Adorning the walls here were a striking, El Greco-ish blue-green cathedral; a series of playful, glittery, Kandinsky-esque abstracts; an invitingly nebulous, colorful city tableau that could have been Paris’ Right Bank from the Pont Neuf; a couple of bucolic outdoors scenes with pre-medieval Asian tinges; an aggressively striking black-and-white work that could be a homage to Jackson Pollock; and even a handful of playful, simple drawings with a coy Keith Haring sensibility. Clearly, Dubal has watched as broadly and as deeply as he’s listened.

December 17, 2011 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment