John Frayne: Pianists pleasing to the ears at Krannert
The final concert in Ian Hobson's series of 16 programs on the complete solo and chamber music for piano by Johannes Brahms took place April 26 in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts — just like the series debut. The intervening 14 programs were performed in Smith Recital Hall. The audience on Friday night was quite a bit more than twice the size of the average Smith Hall audience.
Apparently, Foellinger attracts concertgoers better, but in my opinion, Smith Hall has a more relaxed and intimate setting for chamber music.
The concert opened with a relatively late work by Brahms, his Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano, Op. 114. Hobson was joined by J. David Harris, longtime first clarinet of the Sinfonia da Camera, and cellist Dmitry Kouzov, who teaches his instrument in the University of Illinois School of Music.
This trio has a somewhat autumnal flavor about it, and Harris used the mellow timbres of his clarinet to spin out the long lines of Brahmsian melody. This was one of the works of Brahms' later years inspired by the clarinet player Richard Muehlfeld.
The total effort of Hobson, Kouzov and Harris produced many moments of tranquil delight in this soft-spoken work. Kouzov is a passionate player, and in the Sonatas for Cello and Piano, Op. 38 and Op. 99, he and Hobson struck off many exciting sparks in Brahms' dense contrapuntal writing.
The Op. 38 sonata has an unusual minuet for its middle movement, which serves as an unusual 18th-century homage for Brahms.
The Op. 99 sonata has four movements, three of which have tempo indications beginning with "allegro." Kouzov and Hobson reveled in the third movement, marked "allegro passionato," which was followed by a smooth-flowing finale, which reminded me of the finale of Brahms' Second Piano Concerto.
This sonata resulted in bravos and stormy applause for Kouzov and Hobson, and many stood in appreciation.
Hobson ended the concert and the series with the Four Piano Pieces of Brahms Op. 119, farewell pieces to the solo piano, finished in 1892. He played with delicate energy, and controlled sentiment, and No. 2 clearly emerged as one of the gems of this series.
After the majestic final Rhapsody in E-flat Major, Hobson enjoyed solo bows amid strong applause, with many standing.
At an earlier concert, April 17 in Smith Hall, I heard a fine concert in which Hobson was joined by the highly accomplished violinist Andres Cardenes in Brahms' Sonata No. 3 for Violin and Piano, with its especially lovely second movement. Later, Hobson and Cardenes were joined by violist Csaba Erdelyi and cellist Ko Iwasaki in an exciting and moving performance of Brahms Piano Quartet No. 3, Op. 60.
All in all, the Brahms series had many musical delights and fresh discoveries. Brahms was a highly self-critical artist, so there were remarkably few duds along the way.
I must confess a preference for the Brahms waltzes and Hungarian dances over the early piano sonatas. I have been told that Hobson, with many of the same soloists, will take most of the series to New York in the fall.
On April 21, I heard the recital in the Foellinger Great Hall of Moye Chen, winner of the Krannert Center Debut Artist Award.
Chen offered a long, technically challenging program, with few familiar pieces but with some insightful looks at little or less performed repertory. He is evidently a serious and dedicated artist.
When he entered and sat at the piano, he sat quietly at the keyboard, as if meditating, then stretched his hands flat on the keys, and at last, came out a torrent of notes.
His playing of the seven Bagatelles, Op. 33 of Ludwig van Beethoven was a delight, with especially resounding bass notes from the piano. I especially enjoyed the famous No. 3, and the echo of Beethoven's "Waldstein" Sonata in the concluding No. 7.
Chen seemed to revel in the grand effect of late romantic music, but his playing of Franz Liszt's "Sonetto 104 del Petrarcha" was touching in its direct emotional expression. His next selection, Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19" in the Vladimir Horowitz version, was new to me.
Moye's victory over this work's technical challenges was impressive, but the piece struck me as one of the less successful rhapsodies of that series.
The second half of Moye's program showed how much he can bring to life the eccentric genius of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).
The Scriabin Sonata No. 10, Op. 70 is known as the "Trill" Sonata, and Moye indeed trilled energetically his way through it, conveying much excitement along the way.
At this point, many a pianist would have said "Enough!," but Moye then played Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata No. 2, Op. 36 (1940 version).
I find that this work affords an opportunity for a pianist to display phenomenal pianistic skills, and Moye certainly did that, but I have not yet cracked the code of this piece. What emotions lie behind its Niagara of note?
Moye clearly likes contrasts. Going from monumental Rachmaninoff to intimate Rachmaninoff, Moye for his first encore gave a heartfelt rendition of the composer's wildly popular "Vocalise."
His second encore was Scriabin's early, lyrical "Etude" from his Op. 2, composed before Scriabin donned the robes of a major prophet.
Moye's recital was a fascinating, ear-opening event!
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM 90.9 and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.