Swiss Pianist Brings 'Bards' of Classical Music to Life

CPO Classic Masterworks Series
Gilles Vonsattel, piano
Roberto Minczuk, conductor
Jack Singer Concert Hall

By now it is no secret that conductor Roberto Minczuk is fond of the great classics of concert music.

Whereas many conductors go out of their way to program little-heard works, Minczuk is equally apt to remind his audience of just why they go to concerts: to hear great music.

And as theatre companies are wont to return to the plays of the Bard of Stratford-on Avon, so Minczuk returns to Beethoven and Brahms, two of the Shakespeares of classical music.

On hand to assist Minczuk was Swiss pianist Gilles Vonsattel.

Vonsattel is not yet a household name internationally, but he is definitely known in Calgary, especially among those connected with the Honens International Piano Competition. Vonsattel distinguished himself at the last competition, making a strong impression on the audience and walking away with third prize overall; no mean feat, given the competition.

With his tall, somewhat aristocratic bearing, both on stage and at the keyboard, Vonsattel is a natural choice as a soloist in the youthful but powerful Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor by Brahms.

Composed when he was only 25 years old, Brahms projected even at that age a maturity and richness of expression in his music normally found in much older composers. A virtuoso in his youth, Brahms also gave the soloist a highly demanding part, one that demands, above all, tremendous strength, but also the utmost in sensitivity in the shaping of some very individual musical lines.

Vonsattel has clearly grown and matured as an artist since he was here at the competition.

This was a sterling performance of the concerto, the fearsome technical challenges met in a clear-eyed way and with the courage and the physical strength needed for the big moments. The double trills in the first movement and the thrilling coda to the last movement were all delivered in a big-boned fashion, the notes secure and with no hint of overpedalling to cover difficulties.

The piano tone was full, rich and generously projected, and without a hint of hardness. The rapturous slow movement was as successful as the framing movements - a thing of beauty.

One of the most successful elements in the performance was the rhythm: the underlying pulse never faltering no matter the myriad notes to be played.

This element is rare to find in a performance of such a complex work and is an indication of the high quality of Vonsattel as a pianist and artist.

Minczuk led a willing CPO in a fine accompaniment to the soloist, the concerto itself virtually a symphony with obbligato piano. The many solo moments in the woodwinds and brass were executed with taste and a fine sensitivity to the musical values and the overall orchestral texture was full, but did not obscure the soloist.

On its own, the orchestra performed Beethoven's Fourth Symphony, an exceptionally sunny work and one that suits Minczuk's optimistic, outgoing performing persona.

The orchestra was comfortable playing this music, evident in the precision of the execution and good humour that projected from the stage, especially in the final two movements.

The extended slow movement, the jewel of the symphony, was played both tastefully and with a fine understanding of the lyricism that informs the movement.

The program opened with an attractive, minimalist-sounding work - Ecce homo by Jeffrey Ryan, an up and coming Canadian composer based for many years in Vancouver.

While containing some complexity on the surface, it is, in the end, a mood piece. It, too, received a sympathetic reading by the orchestra, the neo-Medieval element in the music emerging eloquently from the warm-sounding strings.

Kenneth Delong, Calgary Herald
Related Link
Back to List
Back to Top