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Seen and Heard İnternaitonal Concert Review - 23.12.2010
Bach, Schumann, Liszt, Ginastera: Lara Ömeroğlu (piano) and Bach, Brahms, Liszt: Claire-Marie Le Guay (piano), “Istanbul Recitals” at MKM Mustafa Kemal Center, Istanbul 16.12.2010 (AM)
Bach: Fantasia in C Minor, BWV 906
Schumann: Prophet Bird (from Waldszenen),Op. 82; Variations on the name ‘Abegg’, Op. 1
Liszt: Concert Etude No. 3 in D-flat Major (Un Sospiro)
Ginastera: Argentine Dances, Op. 2
Bach: Keyboard Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825
Brahms: Piano Sonata No.2 in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 2
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B-Minor, S. 178
On this evening, the ambitious ‘Istanbul Recitals’ series presented its audience with a double-bill event, featuring two very talented pianists in different stages of their careers. Sixteen-year-old Lara Ömeroğlu, BBC Young Musician Award 2010 recipient, took the stage first to present an eclectic and audacious program for her debut appearance in Istanbul, followed by Claire-Marie Le Guay with her demanding line-up of three core pieces of the piano repertoire.
Coming into this concert, I watched Lara Ömeroğlu’s BBC competition performance of Saint-Saens’ 2nd Piano Concerto, a truly dazzling performance well beyond her years. The video showed a pianist who was exceptional in her ability to suit her style to the music. Although a short one, her program this evening would give us a chance to see her approach to different periods and genres, an opportunity to get a glimpse of her range beyond the romantic piano concerto.
Young Lara’s Bach was youthful -full of verve and buoyancy, but a little too enthusiastic at times, tending to cloud the parallel lines that run almost throughout the Fantasia. Her finger work, on the other hand, was commendable. She kept perfect time in concurrent notes while incessantly extracting the beat. Her wholehearted manner yielded much better results in Schumann’s ‘Prophet Bird’. The pianist applied a very soft touch in the initial theme, contrasting it with a grandiose attitude for the chords of the middle section. Just like her Saint-Saens performance in the competition, her cornucopia of levels of temperament was immediately evident. This is indeed a gift difficult to come by at such a young age.
Ms. Ömeroğlu’s rendition of the ‘Abegg Variations’ suggested a kind of music more suitable for dedication to a countess than to an imaginary friend (as some musicologists claim). Her playing was elegant -even during the animated variations. She kept a steady bearing, allowing for a tasteful changeover to the ‘cantabile variations’, and gave a sober but playful performance overall. The pianist then moved on to the most taxing work in her programme: ‘Un sospiro’. Ms. Ömeroğlu is obviously well suited to pieces that give the performer some room to extemporize: Liszt’s opening ethereal arpeggios flowed effortlessly under Lara Ömeroğlu’s hands. She was delightful in her interpretation of the initial melody in octaves. One caveat, though, was the Yamaha Grand’s proclivity to over-accentuate the bass notes, causing the pianist to over-work the upper registers to make them audible during the forte passages.
Ginastera’s Argentine Dances, Lara Ömeroğlu’s final piece of the evening, was executed with exceptional rhythmic precision and well-adjusted dynamics and pedal points in the outer dances with a fine contrast of wistful light touch in the middle dance -reminiscent of Chopin, who incidentally was her choice of encore. The Op.25 No.7 C-sharp minor etude was a gracious finishing touch to a well-rounded and well-executed programme. I am confident we will hear a lot from and about Ms. Ömeroğlu in the near future.
After a lengthy break, it was time for Claire-Marie Le Guay to appear on the same stage to present her run of three warhorse signature pieces. Initially, knowing her as a champion of modern repertoire, I was a bit disappointed to see that her evening’s agenda consisted of fairly standard classics. However, the very first few bars of the B-flat prelude were enough to make me forget trivial concerns like this. Ms. Le Guay’s Bach was one of the most refined I have ever heard. All the notes were crystal clear with an exactly sufficient measure of pedal. I’m a big fan of Weissenberg’s bombastic Bach, but when subtlety is in such good taste as Claire-Marie Le Guay’s, I’m easily inclined to go the other way.
It has been almost universally agreed that Brahms’ piano sonatas are nowhere near his best efforts. I would even go a step further, and say that personally, I find the F-sharp minor sonata excruciatingly boring to the point of being tedious. The music seems to wander around aimlessly, never settling on any definite theme or harmony. Devoid of flashy showcase passages, the hardest part of performing the sonata has to do with keeping the music under a unifying structure. As we were discussing with a friend afterwards, it must be very difficult for the pianist to keep the work coherent and under control. Coincidentally, this seems to be another one of Ms. Le Guay’s strong suits. She appeared utterly unaffected throughout and had such a confident air about her that it seemed as if maintaining unity was her second nature. Her sense of handling large-scale material is obviously highly developed.
Still, the best was yet to come. Liszt’s gigantic sonata was the last piece of the evening, and it was where Claire-Marie Le Guay shone even brighter. Liszt’s sonata, much larger in scope, is even more difficult to realize articulately than Brahms’. The fact that it is played in a single-movement fashion makes it all the more arduous technically. There are many themes that swivel in and out of the music, and the thematic relationships are generally vague, although they still need to be present. Ms. Le Guay was level-headed right from the introduction. The familiar main theme was put forward with great vigour, emanating enough influence to track the subsequent subjects that derive from it. She followed the dynamic indications and tempi rigorously, thanks to the open score in front of her (and she turned the pages herself – but so cleverly that there was no trace of digression from the natural flow of the music).
Le Guay’s only encore was Chopin. And here, in the Op. 67 no.2 G-minor mazurka, she was luminous once again. The way she brought out the triple time in the b-section of the piece was something that even the most seasoned Chopin pianists fail to do. Simply brilliant.