Pro Musicis artist Lydia Artymiw played piano music of Mozart, Schumann, Messiaen, and Kurtág at Pickman Hall at Longy School of Music Saturday, February 13. Both the older and the newer music underwent a transforming presentation, exhibiting unmistakable virtuosity and personal quest.
Currently the McKnight Distinguished Professor of Piano at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis where she received the “Dean’s Medal” for Outstanding Professor in 2000, Artymiw, with unequivocal determination, followed her muse to extreme individualism, her fingers never failing her. But serious questions about the outcome were raised.
Finding 18th and 19th century emblematic solo piano pieces alongside 20th old- and new- comers perked interest among concert goers, though not all by any means. It is a step some pianists will simply not take, preferring a traditional programming. In any case, pianists then can opt for stylistic renderings beholden to traditional practices or mount a quest toward forging a personalized statement. Like the composers on the program, each with an inimitable voice (save for Kurtág, whose short pieces on this program were more like echoes of other composers), certain performing artists possess that singular kind of voice that is immediately recognizable. This route is often both accepted and rejected. Departures from the norm demand attention as does just about anything new in our lives.
Well-deserved applause goes to Lydia Artymiw for opening up to us and taking us along with her on her own musical affirmation. While her virtually flawless playing, pervading the top flight acoustics of the intimate hall in Cambridge, left me in humble admiration, I could not understand the plots, messages, and voices of the composers. All seemed to take on a single voice, far too often loud if not overpowering.
What started out as fun in Mozart’s well-known Sonata in B flat Major, K. 333, where she brought into the forefront inner and other subsidiary melodic figures, increasingly became predictable. It appeared that such musings needed some finessing and contouring. Too much was the same, yet there was some fun here and there hearing old passages posed in new ways. Boldness marked her playing here, and in the other works on the program, including a Mendelssohn encore. While startling and ear-popping, there was just too much of it.
The lovely favorite, Des Abends (Evening), from Robert Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, came somewhat close to the composer’s performance indication, “Sehr innig zu spielen,” suggesting sublimity, simplicity, delicacy. For the direction “Langsam und zart”—slowly and tender—for Warum? (Why?) she transformed it into a quicker, urgent declamation. Grillen (Whims) and In der Nacht (Night) again showed an emotional detachment, the humor of the former and the drama of the latter blurred by speed and loudness.
Another matter were the three selections from Vingts Regards sur l’enfant Jésus (Twenty Glances upon the Infant Jesus). Where percussiveness, bell-like imitations, birdcalls can alternate with infinite calm in this composer’s mystical world, Artymiw now took to the opposite by detailing phrases with refinements expected in Mozart and Schumann—not Messiaen. His straight-ahead voice depends on sharp contrasts between the very tender moments issuing forth in slow harmonies and the brute outbursts of fast moving birdcalls.
Kudos go to Ms. Artymiw for programming Messiaen and the seven selections from Jáéekok/Spiele/Games, which is “a still-growing collection of some 250 greatly varied musical aphorisms for solo piano and piano duet that includes style studies, technical etudes, character pieces, homages to friends, colleagues and other composers” by the Rumanian György Kurtág.
The very readable most welcome program notes of Dr. Richard E. Rodda stay with the cultural and biographical, nodding ever-so-gently to technical explanations.
Celebrating its 44th season, Pro Musicis will present two more concerts at Longy, the first on March 20, 8 pm, Songs Without Words with Gerard Reuter, oboe and Gayle Martin Henry, piano and on April 25, 2 pm, Three Harps with Jessica Zhou, Mariko Anraku, and Nancy Allen.