Inevitably, with programs booked well in advance and musicians from around the globe, there are bound to be cancellations. But that’s another way in which this organization excels. Somehow, PCMS consults its magic Rolodex (or the modern equivalent thereof) and comes up with a wonderful substitute to fill the gap.
And so it was that when the eagerly awaited PCMS debut of Argentine pianist Ingrid Fliter was cancelled (due to family reasons, we were told), Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan was booked to appear in her place, playing a very different but intriguing program.
When classical music fans hear the title Chaconne, they immediately think of Bach’s immortal creation, the last movement of the Partita No. 2 for solo violin, as well as the mighty piano transcription of this work by Busoni. But of course there are other works with this title and form (a set of variations), and Barnatan began his May 10th recital with Handel’s Chaconne in G Major, HWV 435. This was a first hearing for me, and Barnatan’s crisp and elegant playing provided a welcome introduction to this music.
Franz Schubert’s three final piano sonatas are widely acknowledged as the crowning achievements of this genre, and Barnatan presented a superb performance of the first of this group, the Piano Sonata in C Minor, D. 958. This four-movement sonata is certainly expansive, but never excessive. As fellow concertgoer Arepo (aka Cliftwood) aptly noted during intermission, there is not a single extraneous note in this lengthy work. We’ve heard some great Schubert players in past PCMS seasons, but on the basis of this performance, Barnatan can stand with any of them.
After intermission, Barnatan ventured into the unfamiliar (for me, and I suspect many audience members) with a work entitled Musica Ricercata by the 20th Century Hungarian composer, Gyorgy Ligeti. The program notes provided a succinct description of this very unusual work:
I’ve heard and enjoyed some of Ligeti’s piano etudes as performed by Yuja Wang and Jeremy Denk. I’ve also heard (and been baffled) by Ligeti’s orchestral music in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey. As I listened to Musica Ricercata, I realized that the second piece was featured in yet another Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. Most of the piece is just two notes, a half step apart, but from this exceedingly spare material, Ligeti manages to convey a world of menace and anxiety. As more notes are added in subsequent pieces, an even wider variety of musical expression is revealed.Musica Ricercata comprises 11 individual pieces, the first of which includes only two pitch values (and their octave equivalents); each subsequent piece adds another pitch so that, by the last in the set, all 12 pitches are brought into play. This….forces Ligeti to look to other elements, such as rhythm, register, and dynamics, for the development of musical interest.
For the final work on the program, Barnatan returned to Handel and the variations form with a magnificent rendition of one of the grandest pieces in the piano repertoire (and one of my all-time favorites), Johannes Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24. Barnatan added some individual touches, bringing out surprising inner voices in some of the 25 variations, and then let loose with a bravura display in the closing fugue.
After a standing ovation and several “curtain” calls (there’s no curtain in the Perelman Theater in the Kimmel Center), Barnatan offered as an encore the well-known Bach melody, Sheep May Safely Graze, as arranged by Egon Petri.