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Pianist’s Currents Honor Russell Sherman


“Thank you all for braving the circumstances to hear some live music,” said pianist Evren Ozel live at the Calderwood Hall. Almost “live” describes the subsequent YouTube video of the free Sunday concert given on November 29th before 19 spectators.

Seeing and hearing the gifted young Walnut Hills graduate and current NEC student in a high-quality stream puts us right back in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Ozel celebrated Boston’s renowned pianist, teacher, and author, Russell Sherman, with Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Mozart. This past March Sherman turned 90. 

The Bach Partita 5 in G Major bypassed streaming of the all-to-usual Internet kind by directly casting us into currents of a natural kind. Interpretive measures came not so much from the harpsichord’s timbral parameters but rather from the piano’s touch-sensitive features. Perhaps where the two machines might best have met up with each other, in Ozel’s thinking through Bach, could be observed in the pianist’s rhythmic fluxes. 

At times, upbeat, in every sense of that word, the Praeambulum’s triple time would also pullout lyrical reaction as if for nostalgia of another time. Allemande might be compared to Gerard Manley Hopkins and his sprung rhythm. Corrente, Sarabande, and Tempo di Minuetto continued presenting a natural speech, yet in a wonderful life-asserting interplay of speaking and dancing. Tender and bold pronouncements crisscrossed. The Minuetto’s staccato, harpsichord-like pecking, and the Gigue’s sudden cadential moves as if the musical current had hit a rock, suggest a breadth of attraction and esprit Ozel creates.

Discreet camera shots and gentle applause from the restricted audience helped to foster a sense of commitment and dedication.

Just as with the Bach, Ozel’s opening of Beethoven’s Sonata 30 in E Major draws immediate attention—and holds it. Currents shift to tides: urgent, imminent in the Vivace with a clearly pronounced bass and Adagio espressivo; and conclusive resolve in a raging Prestissimo. Long pause, then, Andante, molto cantabile ed espressivo, Ozel asserts the Beethoven hymnody and takes to the ebb and flow of human feelings in the composer’s succession of variations. A revelatory portrayal rather deferred to decisiveness—until the final questioning cadence, unresolved.

And, just as with the Beethoven, the tidal waves of Ozel sonorously rumbled through the opening themes of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, then subsided in the subsequent contrasting themes. Virtuosity and clarity appeared everywhere, if sometimes in somewhat unbridled effusiveness—youthful riptide?  Marche funèbre trudged as tolling bells, and sang out simply in major key. Downplayed “drum-roll” trills surprised. Ozel finished off the Finale: Presto in powerful surge-force.

More Chopin, Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Minor Op. 35, ventured into my ear’s gospel piano feel and fun-filled scalar fast-passage work. Seizing Chopin’s improvising in Polonaise-Fantasie in A-flat Major Op. 61, Ozel made this his own and one of the most captivating of many iterations around these days.

Evren Ozel’s tribute to Russell Sherman ended in a thoughtful, outgoing Andante from Sonata in F Major K. 533, Mozart. Ozel offered, “This concert is honoring pianist Russel Sherman who turned 90 this past March, and I am really privileged to celebrate it with the Chinese Foundation for the Performing Arts. Mr. Sherman has long been a great source of inspiration and hope for me.” Russell Sherman’s wife Wha Kyung Byun, Ozel’s teacher, called him before the concert saying, “We are with you in spirit.”

It was not at all “presumptuous,” as Ozel thought it might be to say about this performance, “I hope you can all get some similar feelings of hope and inspiration.” This listener absolutely did.

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. This will sound like small beer (it’s not), but Ozel’s Vivace variation in 109 ((III/iii; 31:38) is unsurpassed and close to unmatched by any I know, and I just listened to a dozen-and-a-half, from Fischer and Schnabel to Levit and Say. Fast, pointed, sweepingly phrased and, what is bizarrely rare, utterly together. Much other good urgent work in 109 as well.

    Comment by David Moran — December 11, 2020 at 4:47 pm

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