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Blasted at the Gardner


Paavali Jumppanen (file photo)
Paavali Jumppanen (file photo)

When Paavali Jumppanen’s forearm drove into the Steinway moments into Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klavierstück X, Calderwood Hall reeled from the blast. Unusually imaginative programming coupled that 1961 monument to pianism with another, Robert Schumann’s Sonata in F-sharp Minor, Op. 11 written in 1835. Both performances raised again that question of who is mentoring these bright and gifted young pianists in possession of such enviable technique.

What were the net results of Sunday’s somewhat short but undeniably substantive recital? Klavierstück X could best be described as coming off as treacherous, or, if a more scientific analysis is in order, the performance was too often dependent on the percussive nature of that instrument. With the Schumann, the whole picture, or story, that the Romantic era composer had created never materialized, and this was on account of the far too loud approach of the youthful Jumppanen. At program’s end, one concert goer was overheard telling the pianist that the Schumann “sounded modern.”

One has to admire Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen for even taking on the notoriously challenging work of Stockhausen. What went right and what went wrong this afternoon? In addition to that extraordinary sound blasting moment, Jumppanen slid over the keys with one after another glissando, quite a few of them fluid, fetching, others taking on the same mold and wearing out their welcome. Quite a few flurries of crunchy sonorities reached poetic justice, but again, Jumppanen went to the well too often, reproducing justice in too like a manner. Sonic brilliance often came quietly, the pianist locating the perfect balance in voicing Stockhausen myriad tone clusters.

And there were the astonishing, deeply moving moments, where resonating strings and their overtones first filled the room then gradually faded into silence, what Jumppanen calls “negative space.” This terminology, along with other such writing and a penchant for unharnessed adjectives suggest that the pianist might aim for reserve not only in his playing but also in his in notes on the program. In the end, though, what finally deadened this performance of Klavierstück X was a lack of true rhythmic life. The improvisation-like score relies on the performer as a rhythmic instigator. This complex sound machine fell into a simple, pulsed organism.

Crushing dynamics overcame Schumann even if there were rare respites in which one could catch a breath, let the mind dream, close one’s eyes and rest. The Schumann also succumbed to over pedaling. Why so much given to the upper line of the four-part writing in the Allegro vivace, that is the melody so obvious to the ear. With score in hand, I puzzled over and again why the written pianos, pianissimos, even mezzo fortes of the composer were so often ignored. Lilting Schumann figurations wound up as angularities. Grace notes became important. Depth is what was needed, rondo iterations, for example, were given the same energy as the contrasting sections of the Finale (Allegro un poco maestoso).

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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  1. Interesting review. I too felt that the Schumann felt “modern” and too loud, and almost felt that perhaps he hadn’t yet gotten himself out of the Stockhausen mindset (maybe deliberately?). Wonder how it would have worked if he had begun with the Schumann. At any rate I thought it was a really interesting pairing.

    Comment by MaryBeth Alger — December 1, 2014 at 9:41 am

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