WFP Barnatan review

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Israeli-born pianist, ‘grand’ piano shine with MCO

by Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra has always had a real knack for presenting dazzling artists on the cusp of their careers.

It added another name to its galaxy of rising stars when it showcased Israeli-born pianist Inon Barnatan, 35, who wowed Wednesday night’s crowd of 660 with his performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 19.

The concert led by Anne Manson, unusually, featured only two works as the MCO continues its ongoing, ad hoc exploration of Beethoven’s relationship with his musical elders. This time around, we heard how Mozart impacted the younger German composer, with both artists living and composing in the “City of Music,” a.k.a. Vienna, during the late 18th century.

It’s all fascinating stuff, though, opening a program with nearly 20 minutes of what is ostensibly a lecture/demonstration felt overly didactic with the musicians visibly anxious for their first real downbeat.

Marking his MCO debut, the New York City-based Barnatan, last appeared locally with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s now-defunct Musically Speaking series in March 2009. Notably, he’s been appointed the New York Philharmonic Orchestra’s inaugural Artist-in-Association, which offers a three-season engagement performing concerto, chamber music and solo recitals with the venerable organization. He’ll make his NYP debut with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major next month.

The second star of the night proved to be the glorious, 2.7-metre Yamaha CFX concert grand — one of only four in this country, valued at a jaw-dropping $180,000 — shipped from Vancouver for this concert. It’s rare to see an instrument of this calibre in the city, with every note crystal-clear and luminous.

Hailed as a “poet of the keyboard,” Barnatan immediately displayed his breathtaking artistry sealed with ironclad conviction during the opening Allegro con brio. A young Beethoven intended this concerto for himself to show off his own pianistic prowess. Barnatan captured the high spirits of youth with sparkling runs and a rainbow palette of tonal colour. His dramatic, later-composed cadenza showed more of his compelling bravura as well as the composer’s increasingly volatile temperament.

By contrast, he infused the Adagio with noble pathos as well as sublime voicing of the chordal harmonies. The finale Rondo: Molto Allegro, with its cuckoo-like recurring theme, rippled with rhythmic vitality, especially during its more exotic, Gypsy-flavoured episode, so percussive at times it threatened to propel the pianist off his bench.

In response to an explosive standing ovation including three curtain calls, a beaming Barnatan performed an eloquent encore of J.S. Bach’s Sheep May Safely Graze. It proved an ideal choice as well as a moving tribute to his own musical elder, his revered, 86-year-old mentor Leon Fleisher, who also performed the same work.

The first half of the program featured Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, presented in its original scored incarnation with oboes in lieu of clarinets. Manson set a brisk tempo for the opening Molto allegro that bristled with intensity as well as, at times, shrill violins. The Andante that serves as counterbalance could have shown greater sweetness — this is still Mozart, after all.

The Menuetto, with its angular, accented theme unfolded as an act of savage butchery, more manifesto that traditional, courtly German dance, with relief provided by the more lyrical Trio. Finally, the Allegro assai rounded out the performance, with the orchestra’s intrepid cellos and basses holding their own during their lightning-speed runs and bow-taxing passagework.

 

Winnipeg Free Press, 20 February 2015
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Attendance: 660
4.5 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 20, 2015 D2