Classical Music Guide Forums - Monday, August 3, 2009 - Written by Donald Isler

IKIF: Stars of the Festival

11th International Keyboard Institute and Festival
Mannes College
New York City
August 1st, 2009

Haydn: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Hob. 16/52
Chopin: Ballade in A-Flat major, Op. 47
Alexander Kobrin

Albeniz: Evocación and El Albaicin from Iberia
José Ramos Santana

Gottschalk: The Banjo
Liszt/Horowitz: Rákóczy March
Steven Mayer


Ravel: La vallé des Cloches (from Miroirs)
Scriabin: Sonata No. 2 in G-Sharp Minor (Sonata-Fantasy), Op. 19
Magdalena Baczewska

Liszt: Vallée d'Obermann
Liszt: Mephisto Waltz
Jerome Rose

This last concert at the Festival was originally supposed to be a recital by Olga Kern. But Ms. Kern was unable to appear, so five of the pianists who had already performed recitals at the Festival divided up the evening. And, whereas it can be a fascinating experience to spend an evening with one pianist, getting to know the various facets of his or her artistic personality, it can also be a pleasure to hear a group of fine artists, and appreciate the contrasts they present.

Mr. Kobrin sounded at all times very calm and controlled. He seems happy to play very quietly a good deal of the time. Some other details of his performance seemed unusual to me, ie. I have never heard the beginning of that Chopin Ballade played so slowly. And yet, his conceptions of the music were always interesting, and convincing. And some things, such as the slow movement of the Haydn, were particularly beautifully played.

Mr. Ramos Santana's playing of the pieces from Iberia were right on target, full of fragrance, sensuality and the uniquely Spanish feeling, and (especially in El Albaicin) rhythmic character.

As anyone who has heard Steven Mayer before (as I have) knows, he's a pianist with huge power and technique. His performance of the Gottschalk Banjo was terrifically exciting, played at both top speed AND volume (which is not easy!). With all the extra notes, octaves, and other challenges Horowitz added in his transcription of Liszt's Rákóczy March, one can't help wondering how many pianists can successfully play it. Well, Mr. Mayer left no doubt in anybody's mind that he can!

A complete contrast to that mood was offered by Ms. Baczewska's calm and beautiful playing of Ravel's Valley of Bells. Her performance of the Scriabin Sonata was also very effective, displaying both the stormy and hypnotic aspects of the first movement, and maintaining great clarity amidst all the swirls of notes in the second.

Jerome Rose did not reach his stride in the Vallée d'Obermann; he started in it right from the first note. This was some of the finest playing I've heard from him, passionate, virtuosic, and totally in the idiom of this music. He followed it, and finished the program, with an impressive performance of the Mephisto Waltz.

One looks forward to the twelfth season of the Festival!

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