in: Reviews

March 22, 2009

Taking a Sporting Chance

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For the better part of a half century, Pro Musicis has concentrated on discovering the young and  exceptionally gifted, then going on to assist them in launching their professional careers. Not stopping there, the organization has generated a benevolent presence through its awardees, reaching out to the incarcerated, infirmed, and indigent, alike.

At age 25, American-born Tanya Gabrielian was one of four pianists who won the 2008 Pro Musicis International Award. So it was under the auspices of this organization that Gabrielian came to Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, on Saturday, March 21st.

With an early jump on music (starting the piano at three), diplomas from London’s Royal Academy of Music, appearances with orchestras-among them the Los Angeles Philharmonic-a tour in Scotland with its Royal National Orchestra, and recitals spotting the globe, Gabrielian appears to be well on her way. Even so, a glance at the program instantly suggests the pianist might be taking a sporting chance of success, choosing unfamiliar faces and places, Tigran Mansurian, from Armenia, for one.

For another, an infrequently heard Sonata No. 2 of Russian Alfred Schnittke screams out relentlessly, relief coming only momentarily from short-lived consonance. Finding his own voice in “polystylism,” Schnittke, like so many other 20th-century composers, takes to dissonance like a kid to candy. Where a Schubert cadence neatly punctuates, his detonates with a fist-like, or forearm-like, blow to the keyboard.

Curiously, “twelve fateful strikes” in Schnittke’s catastrophic sonata reverberate in a composition by another Russian, Sophia Gubaidulina, her devastating Quasi hoquetus just recently performed in Boston. Young Gabrielian revealed her exceptional temperament for piano but not for this dark side of the world. A controlled surface she created belied catastrophe, anger and pain, the core of the sonata. Nor was there true relief through an impersonal consonance.

Mikhail Glinka’s The Lark, from A Farewell to St. Petersburg arranged by Mili Balakirev, suited Gabrielian’s polished pianism. Her deft and sensitive left-hand accompaniment lifted the cantabile melody into a place few pianists have reached. Fast passages took off flying in improvisatory fashion. Downplaying the “good byes” for the lark side of this early ground-breaking Russian music gave a brilliance that was at times breathtaking.

In his notes on the program, Dr. Richard E. Rodda aptly describes Tigran Mansurian’s “Nostalgia (1976) as “brief, delicate and deeply introspective.” This is a kind of “night piece” where assorted objects cut into a silent backdrop. It was unfortunate that Gabrielian made more of the former and less of the latter, taking away a good part of the longing while leaving too much pianism. Appreciation must be shown her for her introducing this previously unknown nugget.

Tanya Gabrielian’s love for the piano permeated Béla Bartók’s Out of Doors and Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, no 16 Op. 42 D 845. Her utter control of the keyboard is undeniable as the young hopeful showed over and over again, but the piano alone cannot tell the whole story. Watching her, one could not help but notice facial expressions that, though connecting physically with her playing, communicated little about the music. An unannounced and unfamiliar encore sported the same likenesses drawing from the bewildered audience a polite, if not faint, applause.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and Chairman of the Department at U. Mass Boston for the past 15 years, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award in Teaching and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. Also a composer, he lives in Watertown.

3 Comments

  1. Dear David,

    It was great meeting you at Pickman Hall at Longy and exchange a few comments Tanay Gabrielian and her performance.
    For me Glinka’s “The Lark” was a winner! I think I’m going to learn it!

    Comment by Jasmine heghinian — March 22, 2009 at 9:32 pm

  2. Hello David:
    It was great meeting you last night at Pickman Hall and enjoy a breathtaking performance of Tanya Gabrielian.
    For me Glinka’s “The Lark” was a winner….
    I look forward to reading more reviews and hopefully join one of your classes.
    This is a great website and very informative.

    Best regards,
    Jasmine

    Comment by Jasmine heghinian — March 22, 2009 at 9:37 pm

  3. There was little comment about the Schubert and the Bartok which together constituted almost
    2/3 of the concert. I think there was much depth, imagination and maturity – as evidenced by
    that rare ability to communicate power with restraint – that deserve recognition and compliments.
    I also think the first movement of the Schubert would have been more effective with the repeats.

    I am also a little surprised by the comment that piano alone “can not tell the whole story,”
    and that the pianists’ facial expressions “communicated little about the music.”
    Do we need to see the pianist in action to get the full effect of the story being conveyed?
    I don’t think so.

    Incidentally, for the benefit of those present, the encore was by Rodion Schedrin.

    Comment by Ara Arakelian — March 24, 2009 at 2:10 pm

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