Before the Rockport Music recital began, pianist extraordinaire David Deveau said that for both his inaugural season and now his last season as artistic director, his first choice of a musician to invite was the legendary Russell Sherman, “mentor to almost three generations of pianists, none of whom sound the same. He has been a guiding light to me.”
The audience in Shalin Liu Performance Center shared Deveau’s feeling. Rereading the many adulatory reviews of Sherman’s recitals in this journal, one is struck by the reviewers’ sense of awe, expressed time and again, regardless of repertoire played, or the advancing age of this most respected musician. And as in the past, there was an air of heightened anticipation of revelatory music-making.
Sherman has never been one to perform an unchallenging program, even now that, as he sang to us, “The old grey mare just ain’t what she used to be.” Saturday evening’s all-Beethoven fare included three sonatas (No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90; No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; and No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111) and Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2- a daunting program for a pianist a half his age.
Those who have attended Sherman’s recitals the past several years knew the drill. The revered elder statesman of Boston pedagogues is helped onstage by a former student, who makes sure he is comfortable on his cushioned piano bench. He looks frail for someone who still has some of the strongest and liveliest fingers in the business. (The strength of his left hand, in particular, struck me throughout the recital, bringing out lines and sometimes individual notes, that I hadn’t heard, or expected to hear, in these pieces before). The audience went wild after each piece; garlands of bouquets and lengthy lines of thankful congratulators, including many students, end each of Sherman’s rock-star sightings.
Sherman’s intriguing Beethoven occasionally proved defamiliarizing. Sonata No. 27 in E Minor tempo bears the marking Mit Lebhaftigkeit und durchaus mit Empfindung und Ausdruck (“With liveliness and with feeling and expression throughout”) for the second of its two movements; this characterized Sherman’s playing all night. It was fascinating to hear no. 27 played alongside no. 28 in A Major. To get Sherman’s take on ANY Beethoven, at this point, is a privilege, even when his interpretations are sometimes somewhat strange, even bewildering.
Oddly, the evening’s highlight for this reviewer was the G Major Rondo right after intermission. It seemed different. A more confident pianist spun out its beautiful lines. For this, it was worth the trek to Rockport. The wondrous Op. 111, Beethoven’s last sonata, got an interesting treatment, and the first (of two) movements was quite lovely. For many, this was vintage Sherman. At 87 he can still amaze. The Rockport audience showed its gratitude to David Deveau for inviting his guiding light back.