Anton Nel at the Piano

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pianist Anton Nel

The 2010–2011 International Piano Series at the College of Charleston will get underway at the Sottile Theater on Tuesday, October 19, at 8 PM. Like last year, we will be posting Lindsay Koob’s program notes the week before each concert. Hearing a recording ahead of time brings another dimension to the piece when you hear it live.

The first concert promises a bravura performance by South African pianist, Anton Nel. Here’s a look ahead:

From the Program Notes

THE FEARSOME DIFFICULTY of Enrique Granados’ spectacular Allegro de Concierto has, until lately, tended to keep it out of most pianists’ repertoires. The sheer challenge of its knuckle-busting virtuosity is by design, as it aims to impress with its awe-inspiring grandeur. But amid its near-constant welter of glittering figurations and rapid arpeggios, it offers melodic passages of incredible lyric sweetness over rich harmonic foundations. The piece often recalls the dramatic and epic qualities found in Chopin’s Ballades: only one reason why Granados has been called “the Spanish Chopin.”

Among the finest and most evocative of impressionist master Claude Debussy’s many piano works are his 24 Preludes for Piano: works that have few equals as pure tone-paintings. Mr. Nel treats us here to three selections from the first book of twelve pieces. ‘What the West Wind Saw’ is a fiercely “windy” number, full of sweeping arpeggios, rapid chord-sequences and assorted effects. ‘The Interrupted Serenade’ is a funny little item in which a would-be Spanish Romeo’s attempts at songful wooing are rudely thwarted. ‘The Sunken Cathedral,’ with its magnificently granitic modal structure, projects its intended image in a grand and timeless manner.

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his mighty and incandescent “Waldstein” sonata around 1803, a few years after the composer first realized that he was losing his hearing. But his reputation as a fiery piano virtuoso was still intact, so it is likely that he wrote this blockbuster for his own use. The brusque foreboding and dramatic intensity of the opening passages alternate with more tranquil episodes, leading into a glittering coda. The brief slow movement progresses through moments of tense mystery and soft wonder, achieving an exalted degree of contemplative lyricism; it moves straight into the magnificent finale without pause. The dreamy initial theme soon turns into often turbulent, but joyful celebration that lasts through the exciting final coda. With its overwhelming kinetic drive, original design, adventurous harmonics and sheer pianistic glory, this sonata has few equals anywhere in the main piano repertoire.

Mr. Nel’s selection of masterpieces by Frédéric Chopin reminds us why so many pianists can’t bring themselves to offer a recital that lacks the elegant and exquisitely crafted creations of this “Poet of the Piano.” His Barcarolle in F-sharp is a fairly late work; its radiant, ultra-romantic melody floats over gently rocking left-hand figurations that suggest an ecstatic, water-borne journey that rises in passion and intensity before ending with a playful coda. The Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat paints a far more epic sonic picture; it rises out of a coy little conversation between the hands that—after a brilliant flight of pianistic fantasy—leads into a whimsical, rocking motif. This then gradually rises—amid moments of tension and mystery—into a blazing and triumphant climax.

The following 3 Waltzes, Op. 64 are among Chopin’s shortest waltzes, and are among the very last pieces he wrote. The glittering and gleeful No. 1 in D-Flat (“Minute Waltz”) is the shortest of them all—but no pianist in his right mind would attempt to perform it in a minute or less. The lovely No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor—with its episodes of veiled melancholy—is one of the most often-played of the waltzes. The No. 3 in A Flat is a mostly happy little number, with just a few pensive touches. The popular Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E-Flat begins with the kind of smooth and gentle, yet often sadly romantic music that you find in Chopin’s airy nocturnes. A brazen fanfare then announces the arrival of the Polonaise: a fairly light and delicate number compared to his other works in that form. This mostly playful, yet elegant music is interrupted by a somewhat more poignant central episode before ending in a flash of brilliance.

~> Click to learn more about the series and tickets

Lindsay Koob is the Charleston City Paper’s classical music critic. Follow him on his blog:

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