Pianist Formenti makes ‘Vingt regards’ glorious
August 8, 2008
ASPEN ” Depending on who’s playing it, Messiaen’s two-hour piano work ” “Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” ” can be an exhausting marathon or a series of revelations. Tuesday in Harris Hall Marino Formenti shaped the music into something transcendent.
In his Aspen debut, he revealed himself as a wizard at the keyboard. With astonishing technical command of the instrument, he coaxed out sounds of surpassing beauty in the many quiet moments, able to sustain successions of soft chords in “Le baiser de l’Enfant-Jesus” and “Regard du silence” with such delicacy, tenderness and grace that a listener could not help but float along with it effortlessly.
When he turned to the big outbursts, such as “La parole tou-puissante,” he did so with riveting power. He lavished attention to the details, bringing out inner voices, finding brilliance in the composer’s many bird-music interpolations. He even highlighted some jazz rhythms in “Regard des prophetes, des bergers et des Mages.”
But most amazing of all, he gathered up all these seemingly disparate elements and presented them as a cohesive whole. With unerring timing, he found the space and the spaciousness to let this unwieldy work coalesce into something magical. This was simply glorious music making.
Thursday’s twi-night musical doubleheader featured the American String Quartet in
the spacious Music Tent at 6 p.m., and pianist Vladimir Felstman playing and conducting Sinfonia at 8:30 in a rare performance by an orchestra inside compact Harris Hall.
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Feltsman scored big in the nightcap with a sensational performance of Shostakovich’s lively, witty Piano Concerto No. 1 in C minor. Conducting mostly with the occasional hand gesture or head nod, he got the all-student Sinfonia whizzing right along with him, especially in the headlong dash of the finale. Caleb Hudson provided incisive trumpet interjections to play against Feltsman’s crisp, propulsive and sometime devilish piano playing.
J.S. Bach’s Piano Concerto in G minor, which opened the evening, also fared well. With Bach, Felstman favors fleet, steady tempos and crisp, virtually pedal-free technique. The outer movements were refreshing and the Andante came off as graceful rather than sentimental. In Mozart’s Symphony No. 4 in G minor, however, fast tempos compensated in large part for a mostly heavy-handed interpretation, lacking the rhythmic spring that makes Mozart so special.
Earlier, rain drumming on the tent made the American String Quartet hard to hear, at least in the first half of their concert. Fortunately, all was quiet for the Beethoven’s strange and wonderful Quartet in B-flat, Op. 130, completed as the composer originally intended with the Grosse Fuge. The playing throughout was clear-headed and made no attempt to impose an outside point of view on the music. The ASQ simply played what Beethoven wrote, and they came up winners. This was especially so in the short, bright Presto second movement and the interplay among cellist Wolfram Koessel, violist David Avshalomov and second violinist Laurie Carney in a heartfelt Cavatina. The fugue got off to a shaky start with some semi-queasy
intonation, but it gathered steam over its 15-odd minutes to finish majestically.
Through the thrumming rain, I am fairly certain I heard a sprightly and carefully detailed performance of Haydn’s Quartet in D minor “Fifths,” which opened the concert. First violinist Peter Winograd may have overemphasized the recurring gestures involving the interval of a fifth, but he played with such verve that the quartet sprang to life. And the Debussy Quartet in G minor seemed particularly graceful, especially when the raindrops subsided for a while in the slow movement.
The ASQ gets its evening in Harris Hall tonight, playing Schubert, Webern and Bruckner. No rain expected in there.