Denes Varjon - a welcome return

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Ricordanza
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Denes Varjon - a welcome return

Post by Ricordanza » Mon Apr 08, 2019 11:54 am

Three years ago, I took a chance and bought tickets for a recital by a musician I had never heard of—the Hungarian pianist, Dénes Várjon. My reasoning was that, after many years of attending Philadelphia Chamber Music Society concerts, I had come to trust their judgment that they had good reason to include Várjon in their piano recital series. As it turns out, his February 2016 recital was a triumph, so I was looking forward to a second opportunity to hear this “unknown” in recital on Friday evening, April 5.

Here was his program:

Beethoven: Piano Sonata in A Major, Op. 101
Brahms: Six Piano Pieces, Op. 118
Kurtág: Játékok [Selections]
Schumann: Études Symphoniques, Op. 13

The last five of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas occupy a unique place in the piano literature, and Opus 101 is the first of these five. In form and in content, they are neither “classical” nor “romantic” but rather occupy a category all their own. They are also considered a test for the pianist, but we heard nothing but clarity in the thorniest passages of this sonata. Overall, Várjon’s performance of this work was masterful.

The best way I can describe Várjon is that he is a pianist who makes every note count. Certainly, every pianist strives to do this, but some overemphasize the details in their effort to achieve this goal. Várjon is different; we, the audience, know that he has thought through every passage of every piece, but the essential flow of the work is undisturbed by his attention to detail. This quality of his playing was especially evident in the six pieces that make up Brahms’ Opus 118. Each of these pieces has its own characteristic, which Várjon illuminated through his playing. For example, the first is filled with romantic passion, the third is stirring, the fifth is mysterious, while the sixth is dreamlike.

Some contemporary composers write music that is considered “accessible,” that is, it retains some of the traditional elements of melody, harmony and rhythm so that the casual listener can get some enjoyment out of the piece. György Kurtág is not one of those composers. This was not the first time I’ve heard music by this still active 93-year-old Hungarian composer, and I continue to find his work “difficult.” Játékok (“Games”) is described in the program notes as an ongoing collection of “pedagogical performance pieces” that Kurtág has been writing since 1973. He writes that the idea of composing this set “was suggested by children playing spontaneously, children for whom the piano still means a toy. They experiment with it, caress it, attack it and run their fingers over it.” So don’t call me shallow if I say that four of the five pieces of this set played by Várjon sound like my young grandchildren banging on the piano. This is a case of: He said it, I didn’t. The fifth piece, Les Adieux, has just enough melody and structure to distinguish it from the rest.

The final piece on Várjon’s program is one of the best examples of the theme and variations form, and one of Robert Schumann’s greatest creations: Études Symphoniques. Unlike other works in this format, Schumann chose an entirely different theme for the finale. It provides a brilliant conclusion for the piece but, unfortunately, this was the only flaw in the recital. The adrenaline must have been pumping for this pianist, as Várjon seemed to rush through this final segment.

Várjon ended the recital with an appealing encore—three brief but fascinating pieces by Bela Bartok, played without interruption.

Rach3
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Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: Denes Varjon - a welcome return

Post by Rach3 » Mon Apr 08, 2019 12:12 pm

Thanks,Henry ! I've had much the same reaction as yours to "Jatekok",some of which I have on a cd with either Schuch or Andsnes. Did Varjon play any of the posthumous, " extra" Variations for the Schumann ? Thanks again.

Ricordanza
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Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Re: Denes Varjon - a welcome return

Post by Ricordanza » Tue Apr 09, 2019 5:26 am

Rach3 wrote:
Mon Apr 08, 2019 12:12 pm
Did Varjon play any of the posthumous, " extra" Variations for the Schumann ?
No, just the original set.

Ricordanza
Posts: 1795
Joined: Sun Jun 26, 2005 4:58 am
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA

Re: Denes Varjon - a welcome return

Post by Ricordanza » Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:12 am

On reflection, I want to add a postscript to my review. In his performance of the Symphonic Etudes, only the Finale seemed rushed. Varjon delivered a superb performance of the rest of this work. He had complete command of the most challenging Etudes in the set, while the hauntingly beautiful Variation Nine was, by itself, worth the price of admission.

Rach3
Posts: 1025
Joined: Tue Apr 03, 2018 9:17 am

Re: Denes Varjon - a welcome return

Post by Rach3 » Wed Apr 10, 2019 9:46 am

Ricordanza wrote:
Wed Apr 10, 2019 6:12 am
... the hauntingly beautiful Variation Nine was, by itself, worth the price of admission.
Thanks for the info on the posthumous Variations.Completely agree about # 9, and for me the sequence of #9 and Finale one of the great moments in piano literature.

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