by Jeannette Fang
This was the perfect venue for Liszt, and especially for the program chosen. The dark, almost gothic décor, mixed with the opulence and rather bloody coloring, connoted the sort of mystery one might imagine in depicting the afterworld. The virtuosity of the architecture paralleled the brilliant pyrotechnics of the Horowitz-ed Hungarian Rhapsody, its height was reflected by the tinkling register of La Campanella, and its grandeur reflected in the two Transcendental Etudes. The grotesque striving of the artwork added to the horror in the Dante Sonata, as well amping up the damnation of Liszt’s Fantasy on Don Giovanni, creating an experience both impressive and vaguely frightening.
The evening started with John Boonenberg, playing Horowitz’s arrangement of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no.15 in A minor with verve and panache. The brilliance of his tops filled the space with ringing resonance, and his rapid runs shone in sparkling gestures. While capturing the drama and flair of the piece, Boonenberg was also still strongly in control, crisply maneuvering dynamic changes to create massive, super-satisfying peaks.
Josh Wright followed with La Campanella, impressing all with his command over the instrument. He was a dignified pillar from which crystalline fingerwork sparkled. He created a great growth with an onslaught of repeated notes, which morphed into a remarkably even and strong trill. His intelligent sense of pacing really paid off in the last climax, which was powerful and sonorous.
The next to perform was Stijn DeCock, whose extremely well-thought out conception of Liszt’s Après une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata was immediately evident. He brought out a keenly felt contrast between the transcendent and the demonic, lingering on the celestial with a starry touch and sensitivity, and then leaping into terrifying octave crashes with aplomb. DeCock’s sense of the narrative was powerful and intelligent. It was a treat to hear the work performed so well in such an evocative space, where the imagery of the afterworld was so vivid.
Thomas Mastroianni gave a purposeful and dedicated rendition of two of Liszt’s transcendental etudes, starting with no.11, Harmonie du soir, and ending with no.10 in F minor. With no.11, he created a picturesque atmosphere, the music blossoming from the beautifully rolled chords. It was strongly felt and communicated. In no.10, he never let go of the intention behind each gesture, conveying heartfelt emotions. His octave statement near the end was particularly limpid and sensitive.
The powerful twosome of James Giles and Yoshi Nagai ended the program, unleashing the two piano version of Liszt’s Fantasia on Don Giovanni with a fantastic wealth of sound. Their grand pianistic fury was made more powerful by their consummate control of the instrument, the opening unrelenting and formidable. They created these massive octave builds that were so awesomely loud, yet were so together and well-paced that nothing ever sounded too much, unlike most two piano performances. Of course, the performance was well-crafted, because it was Giles and Nagai. They brought out sharp operatic character changes clearly, as well as distinguishing between Mozartian and Lisztian sounds between the effortless themes and the brilliance of the virtuosity. Melodies were shaped with ease, like breaths, just as one would imagine the fluid nature of Mozart’s vocal melodies to be played. The two reacted off of each other admirably, creating conversations of questions and answers. The fugue had a briskness to it, growing in energy. Their orchestral conception came across when the new theme is announced, an admirable portrait of trumpets. Things the two did particularly impressively were octave trills, massive builds, and, of course, ensemble playing. Complicated runs and dense passages were totally together. I almost want to say that the range of sound worked better here for two pianos than for one, but perhaps that was only because the work was so smartly executed by the two.
It was a fantastic start to the Liszt-saturated day, offering much variety and tremendous piano playing to get us pumped up for the evening.