Fort Worth — The opening concert for the PianoTexas Festival offered a rare opportunity to hear some of the top piano teachers in the music community play as a soloist. The occasion for this rare event, on Friday evening, was to offer a tribute to José Feghali, a Cliburn gold medalist and professor at Texas Christian University. He was scheduled to play this opening concert as a solo recital but his untimely death in December required schedule changing.
Thus, PepsiCo Recital Hall was filled with his students, colleagues (all performers are on the piano faculty at TCU) and admirers. Great music-making—the festival usually concentrates on one composer and this year it is all Chopin—poured from the stage.
Tamás Ungár, Artistic Director of the festival, opened the concert with two Nocturnes (Op. 29, No.1 and 2). He played with great finesse, a touch of melancholy, and gave both of them a poetic twist. The second one took on an urgency that only relaxed at the very end.
Next up was the legendary Yoheved "Veda" Kaplinsky. She began to teach at the Juilliard School in 1993, taking over the piano division as chair in 1997. She also teaches at TCU. In her spare time, she is much feared and equally respected as a judge in a number of international competitions from the Tchaikovsky in Moscow to the Cliburn in Cowtown. This was the first time many in the audience heard her play.
Elegantly dressed, she walked out with an air of determination—and she played the same way. She opened with the A flat major Mazurka (Op. 17, No. 4). Her left hand was on the heavy side when acting as accompaniment, but she delivered a witty performance, accentuating the dance rhythms.
Almost without a pause, she launched into a much more formidable piece, the Ballade No. 2 in F major. She played the recurring presto con fuoco (“very fast with fire”) section with a double helping of both. Yet, when Chopin returns to the peaceful opening, she played it as if the outburst had never happened. However, in the final Tempo I, after the last outburst, she retained a hint of the fuoco, if not the presto, in the quiet ending.
A few times she overused the pedal, which was unnecessary given her impressive technique. But that aside, she delivered a sensitive and impressively clean performance all around.
Next up was John Owings who, in addition to his duties at TCU, also judges at many international competitions. He opened with the D flat major Berceuse (Op. 57), which means “cradlesong.” However, while it has a gentle rocking feel to the main theme, this piece is really a set of variations.
Once again, his left hand was in accompaniment mode and too loud. However, Owings endowed the melody with a suitably simple grace. As the variations progressed, it was as if he turned his right hand loose to explore wherever it wished. This was a performance full of wonderment at what felt like newly discovered harmonic worlds.
He followed that with a forthright performance of the Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat Major (Op. 61), a late work with many harmonic twists and turns. “Forthright” continued to be the operative word throughout his performance. None of the virtuosic runs were frivolous showing off, as they sometimes are played. Oh no, in Owings performance, every note had equal rights to stand up and speak. He foreshadowed the impending storm and, while he certainly got a lot of volume out of the Steinway, he never once overplayed the capacity of the instrument.
Harold Martina, in addition to teaching at TCU, is the conductor of the several orchestras around the world and a frequent guest artist as a concerto soloist. He played two waltzes: a Grand one (Op. 18) and a Brilliant one (Op. 34, No. 1). He played both of these with a strict observance of the waltz rhythm colored with a touch of rubato at the resolutions. He played them with a great deal of charm, but a little fun added in, like salt and pepper, would have helped.
He closed his section with the E major Scherzo, Op. 54, No. 4. This is a big piece, lasting more than eight minutes or so and, even though it is somewhat more sedate than the other Scherzos, it is still filled with lots of drama. Martina took a no-nonsense approach.
Playing this piece was a serious business for him. Even the virtuosic runs were flung in the air with darts at a target. He took a loose approach to the music, playing most of it as if there were no bar lines. As such, it became a stream of consciousness, brought back to reality by the reoccurring rondo material. In the center trio, he paid homage to its folk song roots.
The program ended with the Op. 72 Rondo for two pianos, with Ungár and Martina doing the honors. This rarely heard work gives lots of fireworks to piano No. 1 (Martina) and a rather uninteresting accompaniment part to piano No. 2 (Ungár). Perhaps it should be orchestrated that way and turned into a concert piece. Anyway, it was fun to hear even if it could use a few cuts.
PianoTexas continues with a recital every Friday and Saturday evenings through June 20. They feature one distinguished artists after another. The young artists are also worth hearing. Six of them will play the big Chopin competition is Warsaw and another group will be in the upcoming Cliburn Junior Competition. There are also some fascinating lectures and master classes on the schedule. Only the main recitals require a purchased ticket.
Distinguished Artist Recital Series
- 7:30pm June 6: Eugen Indjic
- 7:30pm June 12: Piotr Paleczny
- 7:30pm June 13: Dina Yoffe
- 7:30pm June 19: Arie Vardi
- 7:30pm June 20: Dang Thai Son
- June 14: Young Artist Concerto Concert
- June 18: Teachers and Amateurs Concerto Concert
- June 21: Young Artist Concerto Concert