Christopher O'Riley at Monadnock

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Christopher O'Riley at Monadnock

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jul 30, 2015 4:14 pm

The Monadnock Music Festival takes place each summer in Peterborough, NH. That is a long drive for me (3.5 hours, meaning an overnight stay), but I have an uncle in Keene whom I haven't seen in years and was able to combine this with an enjoyable visit. On Friday, July 24, I heard pianist Christopher O'Riley give a recital at the Peterborough Town Hall.

I would be very interested in learning if anyone else here (especially Donald Isler) is familiar with O'Riley as a pianist with a solo career. He is best known as the host of the NPR program From the Top, which introduces young classical talent. He is such an urbane, witty host of that program, and so "good with the kids," that it is not immediately obvious that he is a world-class performer himself, as he demonstrated in this recital.

The first half of the program consisted of the Brahms Intermezzi Op. 117 and the Bach Partita in E minor. Aside from technical perfection, the playing was more sensitive than I in my limited listening (compared to many here) am used to, really quite astonishingly so. To make the Bach everything it needs to be in terms of technique, tempo, articulation and phrasing and at the same time apply the gentlest pedaling to enhance its easily overlooked expressive elements strikes me as a rare enough feat by any standard.

The second part of the program began with the Scriabin Sonata No. 9 in F major. It's been many years since I gave my listening attention to the Scriabin cycle, but at the time I found him to be maddeningly uneven, and unfortunately this is not one of the sonatas that would "make my cut." I find it improvisatory without any underlying structural principle and a quite ending that requires a program note "This is in one movement" so that people unfamiliar with the work will know when to applaud. Mercifully, this was followed by the Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 in B-flat major, a transcendental work to prove O'Riley's technique if that had not been done already. (I caught exactly one extremely minor note mistake in the entire recital, and it was in this piece, the Scriabin not counting because who but another pianist who plays it could tell?)

O'Riley performed admirably without commentary, his NPR-host persona notwithstanding. The, let's face it, provincial audience, which did not fill the improvised concert space that would have held about 250 people, was somewhat confused by the second half of the program. (The fact that the Rachmaninoff has bridges that might give the impression that its three movements are one did not help.) So for the first time in my life I contacted the performer with a private appreciation. (I glossed over my feelings about the Scriabin as a composition, obviously.) He responded and, completely bedeviling me, said that his programming decision was based on connections he heard between the two Russian pieces ("kindred musical spirit" was the phrase he used). If anyone here has found such an affinity, I would (quite seriously) appreciate your thoughts.

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

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