In celebration of his 80th birthday, pianist Russell Sherman offered the first of three concerts in Emmanuel Music’s Spring Chamber Series on Sunday, March 28, at Emmanuel Church. Sherman truly debunked the stereotypes of Haydn as rosy-cheeked optimist and Schoenberg as cantankerous pessimist. Haydn’s music, after all, carries an innate sense of surprise and improvisatory character, and Sherman’s playing challenged the tyranny of rigidity in performance practice. Schoenberg’s music has the slight advantage of being less popularly tied to stylistic strictures. It was a pleasure to hear Sherman highlight the beauty of this repertoire.
While Sherman has a no-nonsense approach to how he begins playing, his treatment of the Haydn Variations in f minor was heavily romanticized and bordered on improvisational. He parsed the different ideas offered by the variations into recollections of Beethovenian pathos, graceful Bach-like counterpoint, and the occasional jocularity unique to Haydn. These interpretative decisions carried through to the other Haydn works: Sonata in D Major, No. 19, Sonata in c minor, no. 20 and Sonata in E-flat Major, No. 28.
In both the Drei Klavierstücke, op. 11 and the Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, op. 19, Sherman never dismissed the opportunities for poignancy in a single note, marketing the expressive capacity of atonality. As with the Haydn pieces, Sherman’s attention to cadences gave these much smaller “stücke” shape and definition. In the end, I liked the moments where Sherman made me uncomfortable. [Click title for full review.]