Bulgarian-born, NYC-based pianist Emma Tahmiziàn gave her first recital on the Frederick Piano Collection’s Spring Concert Season (its 25th), entitled “Dancing with Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and Dvorák,” yesterday in the Community Church in Ashbburnham, MA. From the 24 historic grand pianos in playing condition in the Collection (a similar number remain in storage awaiting restoration), she chose the Johann Baptist Streicher (Vienna) built in 1846, one of the more popular instruments among pianists performing on the series. It is parallel-strung , delivers a considerable tonal variety across its keyboard with a bright upper register, a resonant bass, and a warm, mellow middle, distinguishing it from the more uniform modern Steinways, for example, and produces a broad range of colors.
Tahmiziàn removed her shoes (explaining after intermission that it was because the two pedals are so close to the floor and she wished to feel their responsiveness better) before beginning the work that filled the first half of the program, Robert Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, composed in 1837 and revised in 1850. It is not, strictly speaking, a set of 18 dances but rather of “characteristic pieces” that compare and contrast moods and images, in this case of his own personality represented by two different imaginary characters, Eusebius and Florestan. It allowed Tahmiziàn to fully demonstrate and exploit the extremes of the piano’s potential.
In her comments, she revealed that the timing of this performance also marks her quarter century in the US, where she arrived on 13 May 1985 to participate in the Van Cliburn Competition, in which she received an award. The second half opened with eight of Brahms’s 16 Walzer, Op. 39, composed in 1865 for piano four-hands, but transcribed two years later by him for two hands in two versions, ‘simple’ and ‘difficult,’ that were published simultaneously with the original four-hand version: Nos. 1 in B, 2 in E, 4 in E, 3 in G-sharp, 7 in C-sharp, 13 in B, 14 in G-Sharp and 15 in A-flat. One doesn’t know which version was played for some, but others, e.g., Nos. 13, 14, and 15, were from the ‘difficult’ one. (Details can be found here.) Brahms owned an 1868 Streicher, a different model, but they sounded lovely on this earlier one. (The Frederick Collection includes one of that model from 1870, another popular choice for pianists playing on the series.)
Next up were four Mazurkas by Chopin, Op. 24/2 in C, 41/4 in C Sharp. 17/4 in A, and 56/4 in C, composed in 1834-35, 1838-40, 1834, and 1843 respectively. These were perhaps the works that sounded the most exquisite on the instrument, almost as if they had been written for it, although Chopin owned and preferred Pleyels and played Erards when he wanted more volume with less effort. The program concluded with three of Dvorák’s Slavonic Dances from the Op. 46 set of eight composed in 1878, Nos. 1 in C, 5 in A, and 8 in G, the first and last being Furiants marked Presto and the central one a Skocna marked Allegro vivace, all well known crowd-pleasers. I had wondered how the earlier instrument would work for them when I saw the program and was pleasantly surprised; Tahmaziàn delivered the necessary colors and power that will make me wish I were hearing them on this piano when I hear them on a Steinway in the future. In her post-intermission comments, she said she had simply fallen in love with this piano when she first played it, and throughout her performance, she made her joy evident, in spite of being visibly distressed by distracting noise coming from outside the sanctuary that clearly challenged her composure before she began the Chopin and made listeners wonder if she would be able to continue.