Classical Music Guide - Tuesday, July 25, 2017 - Written by Donald Isler

Geoffrey Burleson

19th International Keyboard Institute and Festival at Hunter College
July 25th, 2017

Rameau: Les Sauvages
Albeniz: Iberia, Book One
Liszt: Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104
Saint-Saens: Africa, Op. 89
Gregor Huebner: Five Latin Pieces

Let no one accuse Geoffrey Burleson of boring or unimaginative programming! One of his current projects is recording all the piano works of Saint-Saens, a most challenging example of which he played for us, and his interests in repertoire range from the Baroque to the contemporary. He plays with energy, daring and polish.

The first two Rameau pieces were notable for their remarkable harmonies, and modulations. The third one seemed to me a bit Scarlatti-like. He played it so fast that it was a bit difficult to enjoy the articulation of all those notes hurtling along, though I’m sure he played every single one. I had a similar reaction during Saint-Saens’ “Africa”. Perhaps the overall sweep of the composition is sometimes more important than the passage work, but the ears of a greedy listener (me) long to enjoy both.

Moving on to the first book of Iberia, Mr. Burleson’s Evocación was indeed evocative, and filled with longing. El Puerto was, in turn, tumultuous and exuberant, yet also mellow, and had beautiful melodic fragments. Fête–dieu à Seville was enjoyably quirky.

Liszt’s Sonetto del Petrarca No. 104 was not played, as by some pianists, as a “grand statement” but was sensitive, spirited, and often quite lovely.

Saint-Saens’ “Africa”, already mentioned, was a real tour de force. Though it has a beautiful, peaceful middle section much of it is pulsating and intense, with difficult cross-rhythms. Mr. Burleson played it at a blistering, uncompromising pace.

The last work on the official program was a group called Five Latin Pieces, written in 2004 by the German composer, Gregor Huebner. These challenging works, with Cuban and Argentinean influences, were impressively played. The first one began with a pummeling of the instrument leading into an interesting fugato. The second one had strong rhythmic motives. The third started with quiet tone clusters, and had modal fragments. The fourth sounded nostalgic, and also featured a jumpy rhythm, and an abrupt end. The final piece had an ostinato left hand, brilliant runs in the right hand, and a section where the pianist reaches into the instrument and strums the strings!

Mr. Burleson played one encore, a jazzy work with lively poly rhythms, the title of which I was, unfortunately, not able to find out.

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