Monday, November 25, 2019

Kevin Kenner

Pianist Kevin Kenner made his second Vancouver recital appearance yesterday, playing a musically satisfying performance that represented the highest level of music making.

The concert began with Haydn’s Sonata No. 48 in C major, Hob XVI:48, an unusual two-movement work that highlights Haydn’s healthy sense of humour. The first movement, Andante con espressione, is filled with pregnant pauses, and a mock sense of profundity. Like a master comic, Kenner understood perfectly the sense of timing and humour. He made the most of the whimsical nature of the music, and indeed played the movement “con espressione”. The second movement, a breathless presto, gave us a different picture of the composer’s unbuttoned humour. The artist’s rendition of this movement showcased the rollicking humour inherent in so much of the composer’s music.

Robert Schumann’s Davidbündlertänze, Op. 6 contrasts the composer’s most profound utterances with movements that are rather more mischievous and rambunctious. Kenner brought out the duo nature of the composer’s personality, and suffused the more introverted movements with an inner beauty and glow. As well, the extroverted movements were filled with a kind of a childlike, gentle humour. Indeed, the humour inherent in this work is more along the lines of a gentle chuckle, rather than that of a hearty laugh.

It is easy to forget that Chopin lived a happy and untroubled childhood, and much of (especially) his early works are filled with good cheer, and far from gloomy. Kenner’s played the set of early Mazurkas like an improvisation, adding some of his own extemporizations to connect the different dances. This is completely along the lines of the “performance practice” of early 20thcentury pianists, perhaps out of fashion today with our obsession with textual fidelity, but a totally valid view of looking at the music.

Of Chopin’s four Scherzi, the Scherzo No. 4 in E major (Op. 54) is the only one that comes close to the idea of a “joke”. For me, this is the most technically – not to mention musically – challenging scherzo of the four. Playing it is a real high-wire act. Kenner negotiated the treacherous path of this late great work with a tremendous sense of ease and elegance, but he also struck the balance between spontaneity and a carefully thought out conception of the music. The playing here also had a great sense of beguiling lightness. The simplicity and directness of Kenner's playing of this work reminded me of Mr. Rubinstein, and it was a performance that had me sitting at the edge of my seat.

What a great sense of the art of programming to conclude the concert with a selection of works by Paderewski! It was a good reminder that other than being one of the original celebrity pianists, Paderewski was and is a skillful composer with a voice of his own. The pianist played these neo-classical - or neo-romantic - works (they remind me of compositions by Fritz Kreisler which the composer passed off as works by obscure Baroque composers) with a great deal of flair and panache. Even the oh-so-popular (not so much today as it was many decades) Menuetsounded fresh under his hands. Kenner concluded his performance with an intimate, limpid, and sensitive performance of Paderewski’s Nocturne in B-flat major.  

It was very fortunate for Vancouver audiences to have heard, within the space of a couple of weeks, two great recitals by two highly original, albeit very different, artists. It was sad for me to observe the many empty seats in the hall yesterday – audiences today seem to only want to flock to performances by “star” performers, even ones who sometimes have dubious artistic integrity or musical maturity. With the large number of young people in the city studying music, it is my hope that their teachers would encourage them to devote their time not just to practicing, but to come out and hear live performances of great music, and to immerse themselves in this enormous ocean of music culture.

Patrick May

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