Two Disparate Sonatas, Paired by a Master Pianist

United StatesUnited States Carter, Schubert: Nina Tichman (piano), International Keyboard Institute & Festival, Mannes College Concert Hall, New York City. 15.7.2014 (BH)

Elliott Carter: Piano Sonata (1945)
Schubert: Sonata in D Major, Op. 53 D. 850 (1825)

In her program notes for this incisive recital, part of the International Keyboard Institute & Festival, Nina Tichman recalls her mother, Ruth Budnevich, studying harmony with Elliott Carter. Budnevich began studying the composer’s 1945 Piano Sonata shortly after he published it, and Tichman remembers that “the sounds of her practicing this masterpiece wafted up into my room as I lay mesmerized before falling asleep.” (It’s hard not to smile at the notion of drifting off to sleep while hearing Carter.)

His sonata is packed with pianistic challenges, all of which Tichman seemed to relish, along with the occasional Gould-like hum. (This didn’t bother me, but should be noted for some listeners.) In the opening movement she found drama, making contrapuntal sections tingle with fizz, and in the densest sequences there was intelligence and clarity. In the “Scorrevole” section, the audience silence was as telling as her riveting control, and in the second movement, the fugal sequence had transparency and dry wit. This was the kind of reading that would cause non-Carter fans to re-evaluate his work, and the rapt, appreciative audience brought her out for three ovations.

In Schubert’s 40-minute Sonata in D Major (1825), Tichman found a springlike freshness, and exercised an appealingly light hand in the opening “Allegro vivace.” But as gripping as the other three movements were, all bowed ever-so-slightly to the soulful “Con moto,” majestic and moving, the pianist clearly touched by the climactic chords near the end. Her playfulness in the final “Rondo” had the integrity of an artist who has contemplated the piece for years.

At the close, the audience cheers and rhythmic applause continued until Tichman returned with two encores: Debussy’s Etude pour les octaves, dispatched with thunder and sparkle, and Schubert’s Ungarische Melodie, winsome and engaging.

Bruce Hodges

The International Keyboard Institute & Festival continues through July 27.

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