Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Not about Plants this time-- Jan Lisiecki Recital

This is worth writing about (and it fits into here better than any of the other blogs I do.)

Last Friday night after a recital (good but not outstanding) in Wolfville by soprano Wendy Nielson I found out by accident that the young (15 now) Calgary pianist Jan Lisiecki was performing there the next night. I'd heard some of his playing and an interview with him on CBC radio last spring and perhaps even earlier and had been impressed by what I heard musically and also the personality aspect. So out on the bike on Saturday I thought about making another quick raid on Wolfville by car(!!) and although I had used the car every day that week (outrageous, I know it) I decided that it was unlikely he would play the Maritimes again in my lifetime since he was certain to be in worldwide demand very soon if he isn't already, so this was really a chance that I couldn't pass up. So I went. And am ever so glad that I did.

At the beginning of each half of the program and at a few points during it, he spoke to the audience about the music and to pass on his gratitude to the organizers. He was well-spoken, had a confident manner, connected well with the audience, and spoke without notes. All to the good.

His program started with a couple of works by Bach, then a piece by the Canadian composer Mozetich, and then a set of Chopin Etudes before the intermission and 6 other Chopin works after it. Bach was spoiled for me in my childhood by being forced to play too much of it for competitions. But I enjoyed it as a program opener. Mozetich: well, maybe I had heard the name on the radio but that was about it. But the piece Jan played was very good and I'm grateful to him for introducing me to this composer, and I think he did the composer justice in his treatment of the piece.

But the Chopin: my God! I can't speak to the technical aspect of his playing; I'm sure there is room for improvement, but there was nothing jarring to this set of ears. Let's just say his fingers were nimble and danced over the keyboard with speed and grace, but also with strength. I very much enjoyed his phrasing of the music with various tempo changes and the full range of volume dynamics from an exquisite featherweight touch to the full force of his body. And he played from his heart, baring his soul and that of the music to the audience. It was fantastic!!

Of the pieces that I knew from recordings, his performance suffered by comparison with none of the artists I've heard. Of the ones that were new to me, it was just magic.

I knew that piano music could make me weep, but when he played the Chopin Nocturne No. 20 in C-sharp minor I discovered to my surprise that in the right hands a piano could weep. Cellos, vioins, even horns-- yes, I had heard them weep. But a piano-- I wouldn't have credited it. Now I know better.

Following the oh so moving Nocturne, Jan concluded with a tour de force in the Andante spianato et grand polonaise brillante, E-flat Major, Op. 22 with a verve and intensity and brilliance suitable for the evening's finale. Breathtaking, and I was jumping out of my skin.

For readers of this blog, if you get a chance to go to one of his performances, don't hesitate-- just GO! I don't think you'll regret it unless you truly dislike classical piano as a genre.

There was an amusing incident at the end of the intermission when Jan, acting as his own timekeeper, stepped out onto the stage ready to commence-- but the lighting/electrical tech wasn't as punctual so Jan caught everyone by surprise, speaking into a dead microphone with the houselights still up and the stage spots off. Good for him! I liked that when he was ready he went for it. May he continue to keep stage managers on their toes!

The only disappointment of the evening was in no way the young pianist's fault. It would have been nice if the organizers had put a closed-circuit tv camera on the keyboard for display to the audience on an overhead screen; the piano seems to me to be the only instrument which blocks the view of the performer's hands from about half of the audience, and it would have been nice to see the hands in action as well as hearing the music.

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