Sebastian Knauer Coming to the Sottile

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pianist Sebastian Knauer

SEBASTIAN KNAUER, from Germany, will perform next Tuesday at the College of Charleston’s International Piano Series at the Sottile Theatre.

Last February, Mr. Knauer appeared at the Charleston Concert Association’s Gaillard performance of Mozart’s Two Piano concerto with Philippe Entremont (read our review here). He now tours extensively with violinist Daniel Hope, and their CD “East meets West” won the German “ECHO” and was nominated for a 2005 Grammy.

Next week’s performance will include a significant range of composers and styles that will give the Charleston audience a chance to hear the singular talents of Mr. Knauer.

For those who like to do a little (or a lot of) preparation before performances, Lindsay Koob’s program notes for this concert are included in their entirety below.

Tuesday, March 27
8 PM • Sottile Theatre, 44 George St • (843) 953-6575
Tickets $20 at the door
(under 18 and CofC students free)

Program Notes by Lindsay Koob

Some classical purists still decry the way in which the music of Gershwin—much of it written for “popular” audiences—has worked its way into the classical repertoire. But the fact remains that few, if any, songwriters/composers of any kind could write a catchier or more emotionally engaging tune—especially when inspired by the ingenious lyrics of his brother Ira. So, enjoy this sampling of Gershwin’s songs, as arranged for piano—We can be sure that Mr. Knauer has picked some of the best for us.

Ravel’s rather few piano compositions are all masterpieces, and made for the greatest advances to piano technique since Franz Liszt. The pieces of his Miroirs suite are among the first to show this “new virtuosity.” Here we are treated to the last two of the suite’s five pieces, beginning with “The Valley of the Bells”—evoking the tolling of bells as well as the harmonically cloudy, overtone-rich quality of their sound. Technical challenge abounds in the three-section, Spanish-toned “Serenade of the Jester.” Listen for tricks like rapidly repeating notes and glissandos in parallel fourths.

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Berg’s first sonata departs from his earlier works (mostly in late-romantic style) in that it marks the strong influence of his pioneering teacher, Arnold Schoenberg. This mostly atonal work employs his mentor’s harmonic methods, but Berg manages to make his music easier on the ear than that of his fellow serialists; he projects a strong sense of line while achieving considerable lyrical and dramatic intensity. Indeed, many who don’t care for twelve-tone chaos find that they can relate to Berg’s music—and this piece may just make a convert of you.

Brahms’ A Major Intermezzo—the second of the six Klavierstücke, Op. 118, stands as one of the most songful and lushly romantic of his piano works. Beginning with a soft and lovely melody that only Brahms could’ve created, its gently rocking course holds steady until the even lovelier central melody appears, but now with a feel of melancholic tension—until the original melody returns to end the piece with a sense of contented calm.

Among the many keyboard works of Mendelssohn, the Song without Words format stands out; he wrote eight books of them. The Op. 85/4 piece—like many of them—offers an intensely lyrical, “singable” melody that builds in passion before receding. That same general spirit continues at the start of his well-known Andante and Rondo Capriccioso—a work that he may have written, at least in part, at the tender age of 15. The Andante section’s tender melody melts the heart, turning a bit ominous just before the brilliant concluding Rondo: a marvel of blithe, elfin high spirits that only Mendelssohn could’ve created.

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The beloved “Moonlight” sonata—named for its nocturnal opening Adagio movement—remains, bar none, the most famous of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas. Proceeding without pause, the extended dreamy reverie gives way to a coy little central Alegretto movement—before the composer turns the cavalry loose in the final thundering Presto that maintains its sense of high-pitched excitement and stormy drama straight through to the end.

Mozart’s second Fantasia in C minor is one of his best-known concert works. The fantasia form gave him much more stylistic freedom than the sonata form allowed, and he made the most of it here. Mostly dark and restless (and downright frantic), the piece progresses through four different tempo episodes, ranging from slow to very fast—and only twice along the piece’s course does the tense mood and driven drama relax somewhat.

Bach’s second English Suite varies from its five companion suites in that none of the others is as rich in counterpoint; only the final ‘Gigue’ completely forsakes it, reverting to pure melody and rhythm. Otherwise, most of the suite’s eight movements—all with French dance titles—are (considering the minor key) surprisingly cheerful. The bright and buoyant final movement will surely send you away from the Sottile with a smile on your face.

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See the entire 2011-2012 International Piano Series schedule.

The International Piano Series is directed by CofC Artist-in-Residence, Enrique Graf.

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