Classical Music Guide - Thursday, July 23, 2015 - Written by Donald Isler

Jeffrey Swann

Jeffrey Swann is a natural-born entertainer, as well as a very fine pianist. Before playing each work, or group, he picked up a microphone and told stories about the composer whose music he was about to play, the works themselves, or both, swaying gently to and fro as he spoke. His comments were informal, informative, and anything but dry and academic.

Mr. Swann's approach to Mozart includes playing all the repeats, often adding, or changing ornaments in the repeat, and bracing tempi for fast movements. Thinking, I suspect, in operatic terms, he also uses more rubato in this music than most pianists, which can be seen as expressive, or a bit excessive, depending on your point of view.

The Beethoven Sonata was very effective. The first movement had a lovely flow and the second movement was played with great spirit, and a wide dynamic range, as was the last movement, in which he threw himself into the knotty sections with particular enthusiasm.

As he played so much music with many notes on this program it was indeed interesting to hear the sensitivity with which Mr. Swann played the short third movement. It was so good I listened to it later on the webcast, principally to hear again the perfectly graded diminuendo in measures five and six. The ability to do that is one sign of an artist I'd like to hear again.

The second half of the program was all-Liszt, and Mr. Swann began with the 12th Hungarian Rhapsody, played with great energy and dash. He played the last section terrifically fast, which may not be the easiest (and certainly not the safest!) way to get all the notes articulated, but was wonderfully exciting.

The Historical Portraits, which are probably unknown to most people, are a group of seven pieces dedicated to Hungarian patriots, most of whom apparently met a tragic end. They are, appropriately, dark works. Mr. Swann played three of them, in a quasi-sonata manner, ie. with the quietest one in the middle. The first Portrait was full of foreboding, then later turned absolutely wild. The second one began with a four note motive which was moved all over the place, then developed. It seemed to show a mood of searching, and had later moments of grandiosity. The third Portrait sounded threatening and tortured, but faded away to a delicate ending in D Major.

The Spanish Rhapsody was excellent. The pianist savored the contrasts in this brilliant work, playing calmly, or in the grand manner and with great passion as the various sections demanded, and the audience reaction at the conclusion was enthusiastic.

Mr. Swann played one encore, the F-Sharp Major Nocturne of Chopin. It was elegant and spacious, and ended gorgeously.

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