2003 Season • Review
Pianist gives inspired concert
July 5, 2003
By Grant Menzies for The Register-Guard.
With his stellar performance earlier this week of three of Beethoven’s five piano concertos, pianist Jeffrey Kahane actually set himself yet another, and maybe even greater, challenge: to live up to his own standard in a second concert that rounded out the cycle with the Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 5.
Needless to say, he did so, and then some.
One of the most fascinating things about Thursday night’s performance in Silva Concert Hall was the pairing of works very different yet very much related. The Concerto No. 1 is rich with the late 18th century’s first intimations of 19th century romanticism, while the No. 5 displays that romanticism in fullest flower.
Here’s where another fascinating element came in: the way Kahane adroitly exploited the basic musical material, taking these signposts of eras ending and beginning and made bright new patterns of every contrast and similarity.
His imaginative techniques in doing so knew no bounds. None but this pianist could shift without apparent effort from the comic strutting of the No. 1′s first movement – not so much stabbing out the staccato theme as slapping it awake – only to sink into the melting tenderness of the Largo second movement, where his pearly legato was right at home. With the Concerto No. 5, the aptly named “Emperor,” Kahane ranged through the music’s outsized gestures with a smiling Jovian majesty, but not always by casting big shadows.
The secret of Beethoven’s music is to give his rare introspective passages all the time and quiet they need to impart their fullest meaning. Kahane is that uncommon breed of artist who can make you suddenly sit up and listen just by virtue of the honest conviction with which he invests a soft phrase.
As pianist and as conductor, he knows that Beethoven can bear a good deal of rubato, but he uses it wisely, which is to say, unexpectedly, for greatest emotional effect.
In his hands, the Adagio movement became a kind of searching aria, something you’d expect the star soprano to sing at the top of a Bellini opera, while his crisp, clean effervescence made fireworks out of the galloping third movement.
Kahane’s success lies in his ability not only to have fun himself, but to happily inspire an entire orchestra; his fresh immediacy makes the most difficult passages come off like brilliant impromptu.
And Kahane’s expressive choices are not dictated solely by Beethoven’s score but by his own candid passion for making beauty say all that is possible.
It’s the magic of risking frank revelation of what lies within the heart of composer and performer. That same confessional quality colored his quiet encore, the final movement of Schumann’s Phantasie in C (1835/36), through which the composer’s intense love for his future wife Clara, his immense devotion to Beethoven, and the discovery of his own singing soul emerged movingly and unforgettably.
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