The young, Minneapolis-born Evren Ozel began Thursday’s Williams Hall concert for the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts with Leon Kirchner’s Interlude II. An immediate cascade of arpeggios, led to a more tranquil middle as the composition progressed. The elegant and expressive pianist then bowed and immediately launched the scary, high-wire äußerst bewegt (extremely animated) opening act of Schumann’s eight-movement Kreisleriana. This required not only instant speediness, but also impeccably careful disagreement between the hands; the left-hand accompaniment intentionally misses the beat. Ozel played this section flawlessly, without stinting on passion. He infused the contrasting soft and flowing middle section with great tenderness; one envisioned Clara picking wildflowers.
Schumann had taken inspiration from E.T.A. Hoffman’s character Johannes Kreisler, a multi-faceted and eccentric conductor. Schumann wrote to his inamorata Clara:
I’m overflowing with music and beautiful melodies now – imagine, since my last letter I’ve finished another whole notebook of new pieces. I intend to call it Kreisleriana. You and one of your ideas play the main role in it, and I want to dedicate it to you – yes, to you and nobody else – and then you will smile so sweetly when you discover yourself in it.
Unlike the composer’s Carnaval, (played twice in the series), which takes place at a masked ball and features colorful and lively dances, Kreisleriana take a more intensely serious, albeit crazy approach.
After the turbulent ending of the first movement, Ozel took a long break before launching into the slow, heart-warming Sehr innig und nicht zu rasch (Very inwardly and not too quickly); his superb voicing and well placed rubatos showed off his emotional range. Even here Schumann cannot resist, giving in to his mercurial nature and adding a fast middle section. Ozel fully characterized every twist.
No. 3, Sehr aufgeregt (Very agitated) features a fast, heavily accented beginning, transitioning into a very lyrical middle section, which rises to a love duet. Ozel dug deep into the keys, creating rich, round sounds. The movement ends in wild descending arpeggios. Sehr langsam (Very slowly) finds Schumann at his most heart-felt and sincere. The fifth number, Sehr lebhaft (Very lively), a very fast, humorous, playful romp, found the pianist again showing his exquisite voicing and profundity, and he shone in the virtuosic ending. Movement six Sehr langsam transpires with Schumann’s characteristic dotted rhythms, conveying the earnestness of a promise made. Sehr rasch (Very fast) rushed off somewhere it couldn’t reach, almost tripping over itself. Ozel delivered effortlessly here, with clarity. In the closing Sehr rasch (Very fast), Ozel flawlessly managed the sustained octaves in the left hand, which add such a mysterious contrast to the playful right hand—like being in two worlds at once.
Debussy’s Preludes, Book II begin with the Spanish-flavored La puerta del vino (Wine Gate). Here the pianist’s ability to color really came to the fore, along with his wonderful effects with the damper pedal, so important in the veiled middle section. Ozel impressed with some shimmery arpeggios, rapidly repeating notes, and intricate overlapping of the two hands in Les Fees sont d’exquises danseuses (Fairies are exquisite dancers). General Lavine is a cakewalk in which Ozel teased with surprising and loud dissonances. This prelude does not go where you expect, as if it has a mind of its own. Les tierces alternées: Modérément animé brought luminous moonlight and Ondine, the water nymph allowed the pianist to showcase his command of nuance.
From his stark beginning in the Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato of Beethoven’s valedictory Opus 111, Ozel proceeded with masterful with rubatos, virtuosic runs, and ineffable voicing. The second movement, Arietta: Adagio molto semplice e cantabile contains five variations and ever-changing rhythms on a theme (including one that sound like a modern boogie woogie). The young artist showed remarkable maturity here. The final sequence of soft repeating high notes transported us to lofty realms. In his farewell to the piano sonata, and some say, to sonata form, Beethoven already occupied an otherworldly sphere. Ozel served as Beethoven’s personal emissary and expert tourguide.
He encored with Chopin’s Mazurka Opus 56 No. 3.