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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Fearless, Passionate, Revelatory Solo Performance by Pianist Remi Geniet

Playing earlier today at the Morgan Library, pianist Remi Geniet found striking common ground in a Bach chaconne, a Beethoven sonata and a twisted trio of pieces from Stravinsky’s Petrouchka. But Geniet’s agenda, on a program staged by Young Concert Artists, seemed to be a lot more ambitious than merely assembling context to highlight how amazingly modern Bach’s harmonies could be. This show was all about contrasts… and conversations. Not simply one hand answering the other, but an intimately intense study in how composers alternate voices and develop dialogues – or, in the case of Prokofiev, eventually let a series of distinct and downright strange personalities into the picture.

Geniet brought all that into in hi-res focus: it was like getting a close-up of Beethoven’s eyes. Or Bach’s, or Ferrucio Busoni’s, which were responsible for the 1893 Bach transcription that Geniet played first. Dynamic shifts from a careful stroll to several crescendos of tumbling cascades, where the pianist threw caution to the wind and turned the afterburners on, were razor-sharp. The effect was the same with the conspiratorial whispers that led up to the stampede at the very end. Other pianists have probably played cleaner versions of this arrangement, but it’s hard to imagine one with more color and passion than this one.

The melodic development and tangents of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 in A Flat Major, Op. 110 are more expansive, but Geniet’s approach was the same. The energetic twinkle that the composer works up in the first movement turned out to be more meteor shower than starry night. Likewise, the sense of loss and abandonment in Geniet’s austere, muted phrasing as the second movement slowly built steam was absolutely harrowing. And the sense of questioning in the gritty waltz after was no less uncompromising. The pianist’s relentless lefthand drive made a welcome change from the innumerable safe, cookie-cutter performances of this piece.

Closing with the Russian Dance and scenes from both Petrouchka’s cell and the shrovetide fair – a solo piano arrangement so difficult that the composer himself couldn’t play it – was the icing on this Halloween cake. As he did with the two previous pieces, Geniet didn’t settle for the kind of icepick staccato that would have enabled a smoother ride through this gleefully macabre ballet: he savaged the chromatics, and eerie close harmonies to let them resonate, even if that translated only in split seconds. In the same vein, that long vamp in Petrouchka’s cell, with spectres flickering and flitting overhead, became all the more menacingly hypnotic.

Stravinsky has great fun playing ever-increasingly sadistic puppeteer with these themes, and Geniet reveled in yanking an ever-increasing cast of personalities up, and down, and sideways, mercilessly. After all the dichotomies of the rest of the program – caution versus passion, despondency versus guarded hope – it was a chance to completely go for broke. The audience gave him a series of standing ovations for it.

Geniet’s next performance is on March 2 at 8 PM at Powell Hall in St. Louis with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, playing Tschaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 on a bill also including works by Schumann and Semetana; tix are selling out and it doesn’t look like anything more affordable than $33 seats are still left. And Young Concert Artists’ popular series of performances by a global cast of up-and-coming talent continues this Feb 28 at 8 PM at Merkin Concert Hall with bassist Xavier Foley playing solo works by Bach, Sperger and Franck plus his own compositions; you can get in for as little as $10.

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February 21, 2018 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Young Concert Artists Take Over Symphony Space

Where the hell was everyone? Symphony Space’s annual “wall to wall” concert marathons vary widely from the transcendent to the absurd, but the last couple of years have been solidly in the former camp, and a view of the afternoon portion of Saturday’s reaffirmed its potential for transcendence. This year’s theme tied into the Young Concert Artists mentoring system, with both graduates of the program, up-and-coming performers and mentors delivering some sensational performances. We missed the hour of Bach that began at the cruel hour of eleven in the morning: due to the demands of his day job, Bach may have become a morning person, but this generation of musicians are not. By half past noon, the shlep up to 96th St. looked like a good choice. And where were the locals? Usually, by noon, these marathons are impossible to get into. Was it the swirling winds, foreshadowing a future tornado along Broadway? It certainly wasn’t a lack of starpower. Among the performers hastily gathered for this marathon: pianists Emanuel Ax and Jeremy Denk, the Borromeo and Jasper String Quartets.

At half past noon, violinist Juliette Kang and cellist Efe Baltacigil were wrapping up a closely attentive, intense version of Kodaly’s Duo for Violin and Cello. Denk was supposed to play Bach but reverted to a piece he said he knew well, enjoyed and played recently, a Gyorgy Ligeti suite, which proved irresistibly powerful, from its uninhibited crashing and banging in the first movement, to hypnotic, circular 20th century ambience to a reversion to fiery atonal staccato. It’s a rigorously intense, richly arrranged and practically impossible work to do as fast as he did it, but Denk made it seem if he’d grown up with it.

A Schubert hour saw Emmanuel Ax deliver a confidently rippling Impromptu followed by the Trout Quintet played with inspired intensity by a succession of pianists along with violinist Benny Kim, violist Barry Shiffman, cellist Robert Martin and bassist DaXun Zhang. Then it was time for a break for the world’s best garlic knots (La Famiglia Pizza, 96th and Amsterdam, serves them with barely cooked, crushed garlic, a healing ritual for anyone who dares ingest them). And after that, was the space sold out? No. Easy come, easy go. Was it the tornado-like gusts outside? The lack of global warming temperatures? What is up with you guys? Oh, did we mention, the show was free?

The 2 PM hour concluded with Tschaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, by a talented pickup band, and then a hypnotic, lush, otherworldly hour of Chopin played by a succession of Young Concert Artists players: Wendy Chen, Sergei Edelman and others (the program didn’t gibe with the parade of musicians onstage).

February 21, 2011 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments