Saturday, November 21, 2009

WPAS - Leif Ove Andsnes & Robin Rhode - Mussorgsky, Schumann, Larcher - 11/20/09

Mussorgsky: Memories of Childhood - "Nurse and I" & "First punishment" (Nurse shuts me in a dark room)
Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15
Larcher: What becomes
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition

As timing would have it, I've been listening to a lot of piano playing these days. After Lang Lang a week before and Jean-Yves Thibaudet one day before, last night I was at the Terrace Theater of the Kennedy Center for another critic and audience favorite in the person of Leif Ove Andsnes. And to spice things up, this was not going to be just another recital, but rather a multi-media experience titled Pictures Reframed and featuring Mussorgsky's famous masterpiece Pictures at an Exhibition along with a couple of other works. His collaborator is Berlin-based, South African native Robin Rhode, a visual artist well-known for his eagerness to work in multiple, occasionally cross-pollinating, artistic realms. All this sounded pretty intriguing, and I figured that even if the video component did not work for me, I'd still have Leif Ove and his reliably superb command of his instrument.

The concert opened with two very different childhood memories of Mussorgsky meticulously rendered by the piano: an affectionate melody while reminiscing of his beloved nurse, a harsher piece depicting the sheer terror he felt when she locked him in a closet as a punishment.
Schumann's ever-popular Kinderszenen ("Scenes from Childhood") are 13 short pieces, each of them pointedly conveying an emotional state to which children and adults alike can easily relate. Here again, Leif Ove Andnes effortless navigated the different moods with nuance and delicacy.
After two thoroughly classical works, Thomas Larcher's decidedly modern What becomes stood out even more with its odd rhythms and string plucking on a piano whose sounds had been altered by various objects placed on it. Some animations created by Robin Rhode accompanied the music and added to the sense of ever-changing flow.
Lastly, the much anticipated opening notes of the first Promenade resonated, finally taking us on the familiar journey to leisurely peruse the Pictures at an Exhibition. Written by Modest Mussorgsky upon visiting the exhibition he had helped organized as a tribute to his deceased friend, the painter Viktor Hartmann, it still is his most popular work. The musical performance was of course as polish as could be in its force, depth and subtlety, and I would have been more than happy to settle for just that. As for the images and videos that were projected over the piano, I found some of them interestingly appropriate, others endlessly puzzling, and the whole experience, all things considered, only mildly engaging. The score being strongly evocative itself, credit has to be given to Robin Rhode for not just imaging the various movements' titles, but doing his own thing. The result turned out to be more unsettling, but more stimulating as well, even if, ultimately, the pianist's beautifully heartfelt interpretation of the wildly inventive composition clearly and decisively trumped up the visual accompaniment.

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