by Jeannette Fang
They emerged regally, Mina a column of diaphanous black and John shiny granite. Without any fanfare, they launched immediately into Debussy’s Petite Suite, whose easy charm reminded many of us of our favorite experiences playing four hand music.
En Bateau (Sailing) had an instantaneous flow that was never lost. Mina shaped her melodies with a perfect Debussy-ian sound, paying attention to the length of each phrase. John supported with a crisp rhythmic foundation, carrying a pulse that kept their small rubatos organic and effective. They maintained their calm in Cortège (Retinue), completing each other seamlessly with long lines. Their last chord was particularly satisfying, as they filled out one resounding sonority in perfect synchronization. In fact, all their endings were right on, totally together with ringing warmth. In the Minuet, John reacted off of Mina’s color changes with sensitivity, and the interpretation was refined and nuanced. Nothing was excessive, and their sounds were beautifully modulated in the soft statement of the themes. The Ballet ended the set with simple and tasteful charm.
For her solo portion, Mina played two Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs, and three Moment Musicaux by Rachmaninoff. She set up the atmosphere of the first song, Der Müller und der Bach, beautifully. It was fitting that she chose song transcriptions, as she played melodies with such vocality; very clear, with a smooth tone that never wavered. Her clear delineating of the melodic line when the figuration increased in business proved the possession of an admirable concentration and ear. The disparate textures between the singing right hand and the velvety undertow of the left was even more accentuated when the LH started to tremolo.
Mina was a serene player. She sat with complete stillness, devoid of theatrics, yet her slight timings, (such as when the music switched to minor) had a powerful effect. In Gretchen am Spinnrade, she created a stillness that was haunting. Because she has such control over her sound, her climaxes had an emphasis that gained impact from her restraint.
In the second Moment Musicaux, op.16, the strength of her high points were evident in her sound, yet imperceptible if one was merely looking and not hearing. Her pianism was absolutely economical, which explained her consummate control. Because her fleet fingers were so even, her waves had an undisturbed, truly perpetual quality to them. Her performance of the next Rachmaninoff, number five, was heartfelt and had wonderful growth. Her pacing was intelligent and sincere. She ended with the thrilling fourth Moment Musicaux. Hers had a unique and rarely heard clarity to its lines, which I almost want to say I’ve never really heard so cleanly before.
On a side note, it was admirable to see her lose not an ounce of composure even with the outside noise being particularly loud that night. There was a significant amount of whistling going on. It’s been boggling and inspiring to me to see all of the faculty here play with such concentration when the extraneous noise is so piercing.
John Perry began the next half with an appetizer of three Chopin Mazurkas: no.36 in a minor, no.37 in A-flat major, and no.38 in f# minor. Ever entertaining, he followed up his listing of their keys with “at least, those are the keys I hope to play them in.”
He spun them out with ease, creating a performance that was simple, graceful, and organic. He noted special moments in the a minor mazurka with glee, his mouth opening with an artless delight. The A-flat major Mazurka was robust, yet sensitively shaped. The middle voice was clearly distinct, yet there was no sense of that pedantic pushiness most performers have when bringing out an unexpected lines. In the f# minor, he had wonderful timing, lingering on single notes, and then energizing with vigor when the music picked up.
Having sufficiently charmed us, Perry then moved into his hefty main course, Beethoven’s op.110 piano sonata. The sound he got in the opening top line was remarkable, and the release into the arpeggiated figuration was like a crystalline flowering, just sprouting with sparkle. It was intelligently structured; obviously, he knows this piece intimately, as every beautiful moment fit into a larger structure that even a person unfamiliar with the work could understand. Because Perry was so transparent and direct in his musical approach, he was extremely easy to follow. He played with care, noting surprises but never veering away from flow of the piece, such as in the exquisitely timed suspension of the last chords before the opening figuration returned, or the way he voiced the tension in the last chords.
He played the 2nd movement with vigor, snapping out the syncopations with such energy that he inadvertently burst out with a few yells. He emphasized the left hand octaves with clear voicing to the thumbs, making sure our ears always had something to hang onto.
The Adagio of the third movement started out with a sound that was unearthly. Each note had such clear intent and everything was carefully modulated. The heartbreak behind the notes was evident purely in sound, for he, like his wife, did not play with histrionics or bodily distortion.
The Fuga displayed Perry’s keen ears for counterpoint, for each voice was clearly yet not aggressively brought out. The octave entrance was particularly satisfying, as it was the kind of powerful and emphatic we long for but usually don’t get.
It was interesting to watch Perry. He has these ram-like thumbs, and he moves so minimally, yet his musical intent is very clear, as exemplified by the power the lament had when the aria comes back during the Fuga. He proves that it doesn’t always have to be necessary to act out our emotions for the audience. Technically, his physicality portrayed looseness and ease, such as when he played the famous crescendo on one chord before the inverted fugue, which he accomplished by releasing each chord with a breath-like bounce of his hands.
For the encore, or dessert, (to follow this sad meal analogy through), Perry played a “small piece by Schumann,” (the second Romance). The melody, brought out by the thumbs, was liquidly shaped, and the phrasing was magical and sincerely moving. A particularly beautiful moment was when he ended a phrase with a delicate hush that made one draw in their breath with a gasp.
Clearly tuckered out from such , Perry still managed to end the night with a joke, saying “Thank you very much – I believe it’s well beyond the time when one should start drinking.”
And so our last piano concert of the festival ended with one a sincere and inspiring note. It was a refreshing end to a season full of impressive pianistic pyrotechnics, reminding us of the power behind a still appreciation of beauty.