United States Haydn, Schumann, Janáček, and Chopin: Dénes Várjon, (piano), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 9.2.2016. (BJ)
Haydn: Piano Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVI:34
Schumann: Fantasy in C major, Op. 17
Janáček: from On an Overgrown Path: Our Evenings; A Blown-Away Leaf; Come with us!; Good Night!; The Barn Owl Has Not Flown Away
Chopin: Ballade in F major, Op. 38; Mazurka in A minor, Op. 67 No. 4; Mazurka in C major, Op. 24 No. 2; Nocturne in B flat major, Op. 9 No. 1; Scherzo in B flat minor, Op. 31
Probably the most impressive performance in this enjoyable recital presented by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society was Dénes Várjon’s powerful and sensitive account of the Schumann Fantasy. It was idiomatically phrased, by turns delicate and brilliant as the music demanded, and mindful of the importance of silence—the pauses that punctuate the score were never shortchanged, but equally they were not allowed to undermine the continuity of this wonderful work.
The Janáček and Chopin pieces were also played with discernment and a good deal of flair. Janáček’s little diary pages were thrown off with charm, and in the Chopin scherzo the frequent declamatory notes near the top of the keyboard were nailed with arresting force, but still maintained euphony of tone.
I would have enjoyed the Haydn sonata just as much, for Várjon was rhythmically lively, meticulous in the lightness and clarity of his texture, and sufficiently responsive to moments that called for embellishment. The instrument, however, was in some need of regulation: there was a note somewhere in the middle register that stuck out of the overall sound like a clangy sore thumb. This was especially regrettable since the pianist sounded in every other respect so much better than I had thought him in his previous PCMS appearance almost exactly a year ago. At least the disturbing effect was less noticeable in the Schumann and Chopin works on the program, perhaps camouflaged by their textures, which are denser than Haydn’s stripped-bare lucidity.