WFP review; Manson, Lisiecki

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Canadian wunderkind pianist wows MCO crowd

THOSE of a certain vintage will remember inscribing papery thin letters — now known simply as “snail mail” — with heartfelt sentiments and perhaps even a confession or two expressing undying love for the object of one’s desires.

The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra paid homage to bygone eras of letter writing during its final concert Wednesday night, while also looking firmly to the future with Canadian rising-star pianist Jan Lisiecki.

Lauded by the New York Times for his ”pristine, lyrical and intelligent“ artistry, the Calgary-born Lisiecki continues to dazzle audiences around the world. Now 20 years old, the Toronto-based phenom made his orchestral debut at nine, and notably signed a prestigious recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon at age 15.

The concert featured one of his first recorded works, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 in D Major, (K 537), Coronation, with his third local appearance since 2011 also notably drawing the largest audience of the MCO’s 2014-15 season.

The lanky artist took the stage after intermission to perform the Wunderkind’s four-movement piece composed in 1788. After conductor Anne Manson set a brisk tempo for the Allegro, Lisiecki immediately got down to the business at hand, performing with a poise and maturity well beyond his tender years.

His clarity during the opening movement’s sparkling runs, matched by a bell-like tone during the subsequent Larghetto, had the crowd of 800 eagerly lapping up his every note. Every pristine note was perfectly placed where it needed to be, with Lisiecki clearly in command of his own vision. He was so engaged with his playing that at times he fairly rose from his piano bench, before attacking the keyboard with the stealthy power of a musical crouching tiger.

In response to a thunderous ovation, the nattily attired, bow-tied pianist treated the crowd to a zesty encore of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca from Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, KV 331, that also asserted his growing status as Canada’s very own wunderkind.

The program opened with the world première of Canadian composer Dorothy Chang’s Of Fragments and Dreams, described by Manson as ”delicate fragments of memories, wistfully recalled.“

Its five short, evocative movements unfold as microcosmic worlds of colour and texture, riddled through with nostalgia. Chang’s strong use of gestural language includes buzzing sul ponticello effects and glassy harmonics. The third movement teems with swooping portamenti and fragile pizzicati, while the final section included concertmaster Karl Stobbe’s melancholic solo.

The concert also included the world première of Michael Oesterle’s string orchestra arrangement of Leoš Janáček’s String Quartet No. 2, Intimate Letters. The MCO similarly performed his orchestral transcription of the Czech composer’s String Quartet No. 1, Kreutzer Sonata, last March.

Inspired by the 700-plus love letters that Janáček wrote to his beloved, albeit very happily married Kamila Stosslova — and 37 years his junior — Intimate Letters is a densely crafted, four-movement piece bristling with intensity and emotional volatility. It is a work more to be admired than really embraced, as it lurches from one passionate moment to the next.

Only principal violist Daniel Scholz’s effective, brief solo passages that represent Stosslova’s mellifluous voice offered reprieve, as did the more lilting “lullaby” for the couple’s imagined child that comprises its third movement. Hearing the string quartet piece played by an orchestra brought new fulsomeness to the work, yet detracted from its intended intimacy as a chamber work.

While the performance did not lead to the usual standing ovation, the players’ fearless conviction and ability to navigate through the piece’s knotty textures is still to be commended, if not exactly inspiring unabashed love.

Winnipeg Free Press, 5 June 2015
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
Wednesday, 3 June 2015
Attendance: 800
4.5 stars out of 5