Opening Night of the Bearcat Piano Festival

13/02/2014

 Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert: Frank Weinstock (piano), University of Cincinnati, College Conservatory of Music, Robert J. Werner Recital Hall, Cincinnati, OH. 6.2.2014 (RDA)

Beethoven: Capriccio in G Major, Op. 129
Schumann: Fantasy in C Major, Op.17
Schubert: Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960

One can think of no one better than Frank Weinstock to kick off the Fifth Annual Bearcat Piano Festival, a celebratory week of piano recitals, part of the Guest Artist Series at the College Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. A recitalist, concert pianist, chamber musician and pedagogue with an illustrious career, Weinstock is Professor Emeritus of Piano at CCM, where he was a member of the faculty for thirty years, also serving as the school’s Associate Dean and Interim Dean.

Weinstock opened his recital with a perfect piece d’occasion, Beethoven’s finger-snagging Capriccio in G Major (a.k.a., “Search for a Lost Penny” and/or “Alla ingharese (sic) quasi un Capriccio”), playing with panache, humor, lightning speed and lightness of touch, before moving on to serious business with Schumann’s Fantasy in C Major.
Composed three years after Schumann was diagnosed as suffering from a form of psychosis, the Capriccio in G Major is at times melancholic and introspective, at others animated and impassioned. It evidences the struggle between the composer’s two alter-egos: the fiery Florestan (his life-giving Eros) and the vulnerable, reticent Eusebius (his Thanatos). That battle for the control of the composer’s mind eventually led to Schumann’s descent into madness.
The Fantasy in C may not want to be called program music, but the composer gave three titles to its movements which provide clues to the narrative: “Ruins,” “Triumphal March” and “Starry Crown.” Could we read: “struggle, triumph, peace?” The work is lengthy, yet the intensity in this performance never sagged, as Weinstock played with gravitas and utter concentration, never exaggerating an accent or a pause, always making logical choices, always in control of matters musical.
Schubert’s Sonata in B-flat Major is a restless, sprawling work, darting here and there in outbursts of plangent lyricism, juxtaposed with moments of harmonic uncertainty. This is Schubert’s last work for piano, written during the final few months of his life. Its four movements are tonally diverse, as if the composer were not certain what lies ahead. The composition overwhelms the constraints of disciplined Classical sonata structure, and paves the way for the fantastical free-wheeling mid-century works of German Romanticism.
Like Schumann after him, Schubert struggled with physical and mental challenges during the final years of his brief life. The work is unpredictable, quirky in its harmonic shifts, defiantly unmelodic at times, rapturous at others. It is imbued with autumnal sadness, as if Schubert had a premonition that the end was near. Moments of joyful elation are abruptly followed by shadowy interpolations and digressions into remote harmonic areas; a melody stated in the treble is interrupted by a rumbling tremolo in the bass, as if the composer were vacillating between the palpable world and his inner one. Here Schubert is fighting for life—not ready to face the end, not just yet.
Weinstock made music with a keen instinct for the poetic and the dramatic. His technique is flawless, his tone impeccable, his musicianship and musicality ageless, his energy and endurance that of a man half his age. His playing is ruled by a warm heart and a cool brain, drawing out melodies and breathing as a great Schubert lieder singer does, and pouring life into the music. But it is the depth of feeling, the life experience, the music-making (both emotionally-charged and clear-headed), and the balanced approach that this artist brings to his playing. All of these made this recital one that will linger in one’s memory.
The audience gave Weinstock generous applause and he returned the gesture by giving an encore of Brahms’s Intermezzo in A Major, playing with exquisite grace to close an evening when time stood still.

 

Rafael de Acha

 

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