Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

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Donald Isler
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Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by Donald Isler » Mon Sep 30, 2013 12:24 am

Liam Kaplan, Piano
Mannes College
New York City
September 28th, 2013

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1

When Liam Kaplan arose from the piano following the F Minor Fugue of Book 1 of the Well-Tempered Clavier to acknowledge applause, and leave the stage before the intermission, he had been playing continuously for exactly one hour. One can learn a lot about a musician in one hour.

A tall young man with long hair, he is a serious and mature musician whose manner and playing are devoid of eccentricity or egotistical display. I was reminded of the Bach playing of the greatly admired Mieczyslaw Horszowski (1892-1993), who recorded this music in his late 80’s but learned it as a child prodigy (at which time he dazzled one of his teachers by transposing some of the fugues!).

This was a program fit for an intellectual heavyweight with the stamina of a marathoner, and Mr. Kaplan did not disappoint. There were at least two other impressive things worthy of mention. One, that he played the whole thing (two hours of music) from memory. The other is that he is fifteen years old.

Not only an impressive pianist but also a bass player and an accomplished composer, Mr. Kaplan is a tenth grade student at Montclair (New Jersey) High School. He studies piano at the Mannes College Prep Division with Marcia Eckert, and has also worked with Seymour Bernstein.

There was much beautiful playing in the first half of the program, starting with that C Major Prelude which everyone knows. Of particular note was Mr. Kaplan’s playing of the gracious F Major Prelude, and the expressivity of the somewhat shocking F Minor Fugue, with its chromaticism in the midst of which lies that forlorn-sounding perfect fourth, which lies so far from the home key.

Having passed the many musical and technical hurdles of the first half of the program Mr. Kaplan displayed a somewhat bigger sound, and even greater confidence in the second half, which opened with the F-Sharp Major Prelude, played very warmly, and the enthusiastic sounding Fugue which followed it.

The A Major Prelude was lovely and natural sounding, followed by its Fugue, played at quite a daring tempo, and flawless.

But for a momentary loss of concentration the Fugue in A Minor was pristine, and one could hear an amazing amount of detail, which elicited a “Wow!” from one audience member at its conclusion.

The “home stretch,” ie. the final Prelude and Fugue (in B Minor) were particularly impressive. Not sounding at all tired Mr. Kaplan played with remarkable expression, including gorgeous soft passages played softer than anything he had done all evening. In the Prelude he explored the rise and fall of the harmonic tensions.

That last Fugue is something that makes you just shake your head in wonder. With its jagged theme, which seems to be based on a 12 tone row, it has exotic, alien-sounding harmonies probably not imagined by any other composer till years later. Does this music signal resignation, or taking leave from this world, or at least from this huge work? There are probably an infinite number of ways to look at it. Mr. Kaplan found both the drama and the calm in this piece. It was wonderful!

Liam Kaplan has already accomplished a great deal at his young age. One can hope, and reasonably expect that with more experience, exposure and more of the fine training he has heretofore had, he will only get better and better.

Donald Isler
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Re: Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Sep 30, 2013 5:47 am

Thanks, Donald, for providing this informative review. From your description, we can look forward to great things from this young man in the future.

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Re: Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by Donald Isler » Mon Jan 11, 2016 12:36 pm

Liam Kaplan, Piano
Mannes College
New York City
January 9th, 2016

Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2

Almost two and a half years after performing the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in the concert auditorium at Mannes College’s home on the Upper West Side, Liam Kaplan, a student of Marcia Eckert, played the entire second book at Mannes’ new home, at the New School campus in Greenwich Village. The concert was very well attended.

Whether a typical audience is aware of this (a pianist certainly is!) playing an entire book of the WTC is a feat of both physical and mental endurance, especially when one plays from memory, as Mr. Kaplan did. It comprises just over two hours of music, easily half again as much as a standard recital. Much of it is complex and, like last time, Mr. Kaplan took just one intermission, at the midpoint, which meant twice playing continuously for an hour.

Now an 18 year high school senior whose other musical activities include playing the bass and composing, Mr. Kaplan is a very serious and impressively mature musician. The WTC is not light weight material, to put it mildly. One does not have to wish, as with some young musicians, that he will get into the spirit of this music more deeply when he gets older because he’s already there. His playing is forthright, un-eccentric, deeply committed, and it always has ideas, colors, and moods to it. It’s never bland, or dutiful note-pushing.There were occasional memory problems, but he pushed bravely and successfully through them.

Certain pieces impressed one particularly.

In the first half of the program the C Minor Prelude was jaunty and playful, followed by the Fugue, which was contrastingly slow, beautiful, expressive and had ideal clarity.

The C-sharp Minor Prelude had wistful, bleak moments and was followed by the Fugue in 12/16ths time, which was propulsive, yet had many tonal subtleties.

With the gamboling triplets of the E-flat Major Prelude Mr. Kaplan seemed to be entering into a deeper level of expressivity.

The E Major Prelude could serve well as a definition of loveliness and gentleness.

The second half of the program began with the F-sharp Major Prelude and Fugue, which displayed great spirit, and musicianship.

The F-sharp Minor Fugue had a wonderful presentation of the theme, and a terrific range of dynamics and expression.

The G Minor Prelude had an exquisite ending, and was followed by the animated conversation of the voices of the Fugue, concluding in a triumphant mood.

The B-Flat Minor Prelude sounded deep and far away, and ended with a masterful tonal wind-down.

The final works on the program were the puckish B Minor Prelude and the Fugue, played with a gruff humor. After which the audience instantly rose to give Mr. Kaplan a standing ovation.

Then, to my surprise, he returned to the piano to play an encore. What would be appropriate at this moment? Of course! He played the first Prelude from the first book, as if starting the cycle all over again. Probably the most famous piece of the entire 96 parts of the Well-Tempered Clavier it was ethereal at the beginning, gradually becoming more lush and lovely as it went on.

A very impressive evening.

Donald Isler
Last edited by Donald Isler on Tue Jan 12, 2016 10:16 am, edited 1 time in total.
Donald Isler

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Re: Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Jan 12, 2016 6:44 am

Ricordanza wrote:Thanks, Donald, for providing this informative review. From your description, we can look forward to great things from this young man in the future.
Ditto

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Re: Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Jan 12, 2016 7:24 pm

I only wish I could have been there. For someone so young to forego anything flashy in favor of what is great and difficult but not crowd-pleasing is a miracle of musical maturity all by itself.

When I lived in Maryland, I heard a broadcast from the state high school music "competition" (it is not really that, as Donald knows, because they are playing against a standard rather than each other, but I cannot remember exactly what they call it) which featured a pianist of about the same age who played nothing less than the Beethoven Opus 111 as though he had composed it. The second part of the program was a Liszt concerto marred by the inadequacy of the "state high school orchestra," but the boy had by then made his point.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

Agnes Selby
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Re: Pianist Liam Kaplan Plays Bach, WTC, Book 1

Post by Agnes Selby » Wed Jan 13, 2016 4:39 pm

Thank you, Donald. I do remember when you first wrote about this young boy
and only recently wondered what had happened to him. We can expect great music from
him in the years to come.

Regards,
Agnes.

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