Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Substitute

Sometimes the most exciting performances take place when an artist steps in for a colleague who had cancelled. We can only think of Leonard Bernstein’s legendary debut with the New York Philharmonic, substituting for an ailing Bruno Walter. Zubin Mehta stepped in when Igor Markevitch cancelled his appearance with the Montreal Symphony, created a sensation with both the audience and the orchestra, and became Music Director of that orchestra within the same week. The young Andre Watts substituted for Glenn Gould who was infamous for cancelling performances. That performance led to the beginning of a stellar career for Mr. Watts that has continued to this day. In Vancouver, a cancellation by pianist Walter Klien led to the debut of Yefim Broffman in a stunning performance of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor.

Last Sunday, pianist Lukas Geniusas cancelled his appearance with the Vancouver Chopin Society because of illness. The society was fortunate to be able to secure the services of American pianist Sara Daneshpour, who then made her Vancouver debut. Ms. Daneshpour came with impressive credentials. A graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music, where she studied with Leon Fleisher, Ms. Daneshpour has a string of prizes to her name, and was a competitor in the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia. A glance at the young pianist’s website also reveals an already active performing career.

Ms. Daneshpour played a varied programme of works by Schumann, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. Incidentally, many of the pieces she played were the same as the ones she played when she competed at the Tchaikovsky Competition.

The young artist is a natural pianist, with a very easy way around the keyboard. For most of her recital, I did find a little lack of projection in her sound. Her playing of Schumann’s difficult Abegg Variations, Op. 1, was stunning, but I did miss in her playing the sense of ardour. Chopin’s Scherzo No. 4 and Four of Rachmaninoff’s Étude-tableaux were very well played, as was Tchaikovsky’s charming Romance, Op. 5 - a beautiful and charming piece that one hardly ever hears in recitals. However, I somehow find that she was emotionally ambivalent in these, for lack of a better word, “romantic” pieces, works that call for heart rather than fingers, and the playing came across as a little cold.

She played the two Scarlatti sonatas with impressive dexterity, and brought out the delicacy that the music calls for. I did wish for a little more variety of sound colours though, especially in the repeats of each section.

Ms. Daneshpour became a completely different musician in her last piece, Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83. Her performance of this 20th masterpiece was captivating, bracing, technically impregnable, and the passion and the projection I was looking for all evening were suddenly there, in spades. The audience gave her a well-deserved ovation after her performance of the sonata, whereupon she rewarded us with the same composer’s famous Toccata, Op. 11. All the attributes she exhibited in the sonata were there in her performance of this now popular work. From a programming standpoint, I would probably not have chosen an encore a work that is so similar in character to that of the work just played.

The Vancouver Chopin Society was fortunate to have been able to secure the services of a pianist of Ms. Daneshpour’s calibre. I do have a suggestion to the members of the society’s board. The next time there is a cancellation, they need to look no further than our own city, where Vancouver pianist Ryo Yanagitani would be able to deliver a performance of the highest artistic and pianistic standards.

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