Thursday, 9 August 2012

JOSEPH BANOWETZ Piano Recital / Review

Japanese Association of Singapore
Tuesday (7 August 2012)

This review was published in The Straits Times on 9 August 2012 with the title "Banowetz's lesson in musical history". 

Almost everyone knows that the thousands of piano students in Singapore can play their set pieces well and score distinctions in piano examinations, but how many are actually aware of the history behind the works and their composers? Knowing and understanding the traditions of musical composition and performance is vital in making a connection with the music and unlocking its innumerable secrets.  

One could do worse than to attend a lecture-recital by American pianist Joseph Banowetz whose musical pedigree is steeped in tradition. After all, the 76-year-old sage was a student of Carl Friedberg, who studied with Clara Schumann, and of Gy├Ârgy Sandor, Bartok’s most famous piano pupil. He spoke as much as he played, and every word and note was eagerly lapped up by all who attended.

He introduced the name of Alexander Siloti, student of Liszt and cousin of Rachmaninov, and opened with his transcription in B minor of J.S.Bach’s little harpsichord Prelude written for his son. What a gem it was, first highlighting repetitive figurations on the right hand, and then a melody magically appearing in the left hand played with the thumb. By way of contrast, huge chords, octaves and cathedral-like sonorities dominated another Bach Prelude transcription, this time in G minor and conceived for organ.  

The next two works were in C minor, first Mozart’s Fantasy K.396, completed by his pupil Maximilian Stadler, and Beethoven’s better known 32 Variations. Unlike the hurried barnstorming accounts often proffered by young virtuosos, Banowetz clothed these in an intimate sound and displaying distinct latitude in tempos. The Beethoven was stately and particularly well-shaped, with each successive variation deliciously fleshed out.  

Banowetz, ardent champion of unknown repertoire, then gave the Singapore premiere of Anton Rubinstein’s Akrostychon in A flat major (Op.114 No.2), a delightful little morsel of tenderness and a burning inner passion. 

The twin-towers of the Romantic piano tradition were not neglected. Before performing Chopin’s Funeral March (from the Second Sonata), Banowetz related the spooky story of a tuberculous Chopin who saw apparitions whenever he played this number, and when Arthur Rubinstein performed the same for his friends, one of them would mysteriously die shortly after.

The anecdotes flowed unabated and two hours passed very swiftly. There was enough time for one of Banowetz’s specialities – Franz Liszt. His Third Hungarian Rhapsody was a one-man-band display of the gypsy tradition, with the piano imitating the repetitive tremolos of the Hungarian cimbalom. Banowetz could have played all night, but the musical history lesson had to come to an end sometime. The good news is the last of the “three Bs of Liszt playing” (the others being Bolet and Brendel) will be returning next year.       

Joseph Banowetz had to sign a lot of autographs post-concert.

Joseph Banowetz with the organising committee of the 1sr Ars Nova International Piano Competition.
This concert was presented by MW Events Management, as part of the 1st Ars Nova International Piano Competition.

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