The parade of great pianists performing in Vancouver continues last Friday evening with a recital by the young Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon, this time under the auspices of the Vancouver Chopin Society.
In Haydn’s Sonata in E minor, Hob XVI:34, the artist showed off his considerable pianistic chops. The finger work in the first and third movement was brilliant. Perhaps because of Várjon’s facility, there was almost a feeling of pushing the music a little too much, and therefore in need of a greater sense of repose. I also felt that the repeats he observed, especially in the third movement, did not display enough of a variety in sound.
I was very moved by his interpretation of Schumann’s great Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17. In the first movement, the pianist very successfully conveyed the passion, the tension, and the sense of yearning that pervades throughout. The brilliant march in the second movement also came off very successfully, and Várjon managed the frighteningly difficult ending with great panache. In the third movement, there was that sense of repose that I thought eluded him in the Haydn. Most interestingly, he played an earlier version of the Fantasie, where Schumann brings back the quote from Beethoven’s An die ferne geliebte, thus highlighting the cyclical nature of his design for the work. I was grateful to Várjon for introducing us to this version of the great work, although I would personally prefer Schumann’s published ending.
We should also be grateful to our young artist for playing six selections from Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path, a cycle of 15 short pieces. These are wonderfully evocative and effective pieces that pianists would do well to include in their repertoire. Várjon played these pieces with great feeling and managed to bring out the individual character of each work. I was particularly touched by his heartfelt rendition of two of the works - Good Night! and In Tears.
Várjon’s final offering of the evening was, appropriately, a group of Chopin works. I appreciated his pacing in the Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38. He played the opening section beautifully, and managed to make the chords in the opening section float. I also liked his sense of direction in the opening, and how he kept the forward motion of the music. The dramatic B section as well as the even more dramatic coda - a stumbling block for many pianists - took our breath away. The two Mazurkas (Op. 67, No. 4 and Op. 24, No. 2) were, for me, less successful. I cannot put it any more specifically than to say that the timing, accents and rubato didn’t feel right. Once again, I was reminded that the music of Chopin, especially the more “Polish” side of the composer, can elude even the greatest artist. The pianist’s playing of the Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1 was lovely. Várjon merely let the music speak for itself, and became more
like an observer rather
than an active participant. His playing of the justifiably popular Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31,
was stunning, even more successful than Murray Perahia’s interpretation when he
last played in Vancouver – From the restless opening triplets to the
cataclysmic ending, the artist kept us enthralled with his pianism and
musicality. There was also a sense of meaning in the many dramatic pauses that
occur throughout this music.
Under the urging of an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, the artist rewarded us with an incredibly fleet and light-fingered Andante and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 14, by Mendelssohn, with beautifully ardent playing of the opening andante.
The incredible lineup of great pianists continues in two weeks with the incomparable Richard Goode in a recital of the music of Bach. How blessed we are in Vancouver, and what an embarrassment of riches, to have performances within a few weeks by Andras Schiff, Dénes Várjon, and Richard Goode – every one a unique artist and musician with something different to say to us about the infinite variety of our musical canon.