CityArts - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - Written by Jay Nordlinger

Music Old Yet New

One of the ABT’s offerings last season was The Lady of the Camellias, which uses piano music of Chopin. (There is scarcely any other music by Chopin, true.) The company employed three pianists, all of whom played for each performance, and the outstanding one of whom was Koji Attwood, a young American. He played the slow movement of Chopin’s B-minor sonata in arresting, affecting fashion.

Some weeks later, he played a recital at the Mannes school, on the Upper West Side. This was a recital in the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, that excellent enterprise run by Jerome Rose, the pianist and teacher, and his partner Julie Kedersha.

On the first half of his program, Attwood played music of Schumann, Chopin, Scriabin and Bortkiewicz. Who? Sergei Bortkiewicz, a Polish-Ukrainian-Russian pianist and composer who lived from 1877 to 1952. Attwood has championed Bortkiewicz, who deserves championing: The man was a smart, gifted Romantic. He would not be in the least out of place in the mainstream.

Attwood played everything with maturity, sobriety and command. He combined strength and subtlety, heft and lyricism. He always obeyed—which is to say, followed—the musical line. And he always showed respect for the music. There was uncommonly little ego in this music-making. At the same time, it was far from retiring.

The second half of the program was dominated by a transcription that Attwood himself made, of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” string quartet. Do we need a transcription of a Schubert quartet, given that there are many Schubert piano sonatas, some of which are underplayed? It is not a question of need. Attwood has made a fine transcription, one that sounds like a big Schubertian—or Beethovenian—piano sonata. My guess is, Schubert himself would approve.

For an encore, Attwood gave us a guitar piece, another of his transcriptions: Tárrega’s famous Recuerdos de la Alhambra. It expressed what I can only describe as a happy melancholy.

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