CityArts - Thursday, July 26, 2012 - Written by Jay Nordlinger

Notes from a Palooza

In a recent issue, I referred to the International Keyboard Institute & Festival as a “piano-palooza.” Every July, there are some 25 recitals presented at Mannes College, on W. 85th St. The festival is directed by a distinguished pianist and Mannes teacher, Jerome Rose, and his better half, Julie Kedersha. I have often quoted a saying Rose taught me: “You play who you are.” I reminded him of this saying the other day. He said, “As far as I’m concerned, it gets truer every year.”

Traditionally, he gives the opening recital, as he did this year. This latest recital posed a special challenge: The air conditioning broke down, on a very hot night. That gave the audience a sense of solidarity and adventure, as hardship can.

One benefit of this festival is that a patron has a chance to hear music that is hardly ever played during the regular season. You hear little-known pieces by well-known composers. This year, we had Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, for example, and Hindemith’s Sonata No. 3. You also hear composers who are themselves little known. This year, we got Levko Revutsky, a Ukrainian who lived from 1889 to 1977, and Héctor Campos-Parsi, a Puerto Rican who lived from 1922 to 1998.

And then there are our old friends transcriptions—arrangements of songs, orchestra pieces, and the like for piano. When I was growing up, these were considered old-fashioned and embarrassing. None of the cool kids played them. But they never went entirely away, because so many of them were so skilled and so enjoyable. This year, one festival pianist played Liszt’s transcription of Chopin’s song “The Maiden’s Wish.” Someone else played Liszt’s transcription of Weber’s Konzertstück. The Konzertstück is old-fashioned enough on its own, believe me. But in the Liszt transcription? Positively transgressive!

Daria Rabotkina, a young Russian-born pianist, began her recital with Schumann’s Humoreske in B-flat Major. This is not a rarity—but you hear it a lot less than you do, say, Schumann’s Carnaval. You hear it about as often as you do Papillons. And the Humoreske is a formidable, mysterious piece. It’s no joke, put it that way. Rabotkina played it in an athletic, extrovert, headlong manner—decidedly Romantic.

She next played a rarity, Busoni’s Variations and Fugue on Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor. This is the same prelude on which Rachmaninoff wrote variations (but no fugue), years later. The Busoni piece is dark and stormy, to quote an opening line. Passionately Romantic, it is a long way from Busoni’s last work, the modernist opera Doktor Faust. Rabotkina played the Variations and Fugue with commitment and command.

She closed her recital with a piece by Marc-André Hamelin, the Canadian pianist—who played his own recital on the same stage about an hour later.

The following night, HaeSun Paik, a native of South Korea, played a recital beginning with bird pieces—pieces by Messiaen, the birdiest composer since Byrd. Paik started with the prelude called “La Colombe” (“The Dove”), then continued with “Le Loriot” (“The Oriole”) from Catalogue of Birds. According to Paik, who gave remarks from the stage before she played a note—often a concert-killer—the catalogue takes about three hours to play. Is this love, on Messiaen’s part, or obsession? They’re often close cousins, love and obsession.

Regardless, it was a pleasure to hear the two bird pieces, which spring from the Impressionism established by Debussy and Ravel. HaeSun Paik played them with care.

The world of the piano, you will agree, is a wonderful one—all that repertoire. Is it the best repertoire there is? You could make an argument for the song repertoire—but fortunately, none of us has to choose.

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