Pro Musicis award winners Andrew Staupe and Alexandria Le appeared in a shared recital that also was each pianist’s New York debut. With three world premiere pieces and some of the great works in the piano repertoire, it had the makings of a fascinating evening. Happily, this was the case, as both performers brought brilliance, poetry, and a deep understanding of their respective selections.
Mr. Staupe took the first half of the recital and opened with the Fantasy in F-sharp Minor, Op. 28, by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Commonly called “Scottish Fantasy”, this work is Mendelssohn’s musical impression of Scotland, imbued with the spirit of the ancient poet Ossian. Mr. Staupe demonstrated a good sense of drama, with a confident manner, never allowing the stormy moments to be muddied or the lyrical sections to become overly sentimental, ending this work with a driven passion. Two world premiere works followed without break between them. As Mr. Staupe informed the audience, these works were written especially for him by composers who are his close friends. The first by Christopher Walczak (b.1970), “Dark Blue Etude”, is in the words of the composer, “a hyper-compressed sonata form with a disproportionate coda”. Indeed, it was over almost as soon as it began, but was played with subtlety. I’d like to hear this work again, but at a much slower tempo! “Delusion” by Karl Blench (b. 1981) relies on the performer to choose the pace (“play the notes as fast as comfortably possible”), which makes each performance unique, but highly dependent on the ability of the performer. Mr. Staupe’s technical prowess made it a success. Following these premieres was “La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune”, from the Préludes, Book II, of Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Awash in exoticism, this work requires a nuanced touch, which Mr. Staupe provided in a delicate and crystalline performance. The pianissimo final measures were stunningly rendered with a clarity I have rarely heard. “Rudepoêma” by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959) ended Mr. Staupe’s half. This massive work, with elements of savagery is not for the faint of heart (listener and performer alike!). Described by some as a Brazilian “Le Sacre du Printemps”, I disagree; this work is the essence of Villa-Lobos – raw genius overflowing with ideas and passion. Mr. Staupe gave a brilliant performance, handling the virtuosic demands with apparent ease, capturing the savage without ever resorting to pounding, and maintaining a tremendous level of stamina and power. After the four final fist-driven hammer blows, the audience responded with what appeared to be bewildered applause. I was stunned- this was one of the most incredible performances of this masterpiece I have ever heard, live or recorded. I wanted to shout out to the audience, “Wake up! Don’t you realize you have had the privilege of hearing a once-in-a-lifetime performance!” Almost as an apology, Mr. Staupe played a Scarlatti sonata as an encore (stating “let me play something without my fist”), which he did with grace.
Ms. Le began her half with the Fantasy in G minor, Op. 77 of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Written in an improvisational style, this work shows the influence of C.P.E. Bach, whom Beethoven admired greatly. Ms. Le is a passionate and involved player; she invests herself entirely in her performance, which is ideal for a work of this nature. Playing with fiery abandon, Ms. Lee gave a reading filled with impulsive pathos, but also longing and beauty. “Competing Demands” by Ryan Carter (b.1981) was given its world premiere by Ms. Le. Mr. Carter is a close friend and former classmate of Ms. Le and he wrote this piece especially for her. Ms. Le shared with the audience that Mr. Carter is a great fan of the hall and wrote the piece with the hall in mind – an interesting concept. Requiring a delicate, quicksilver touch in the right hand and a loud, insistent left hand, Ms. Le showed that she was up to the challenge. There might have been a moment when something in the treble lost traction, but all in all, it was an exciting performance. To finish her half, Ms. Le took on “Pictures at an Exhibition” by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-1881). This work suits Ms Le completely – the concept of musical realizations of art works by a pianist who is so adept at painting tonal pictures. “The Gnome” was played with sinister grotesqueness that was spot on. “Tuileries” had the light and delicate touch of children at play, while “Bydlo” was powerfully played, as if the depicted wagon were passing through the hall, fading as it exited. “The Ballet of the Chicks in Their Shells” had all the humor one could imagine, and “Catacombs”, “Roman Tombs”, and “Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua” were simply fantastic. “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” was played by Ms. Le with demonic flair. She brought this tour-de-force to a close with a majestic “Great Gate of Kiev”, which ended a memorable performance in triumphal style. The audience responded with waves of applause. For an encore, Ms. Le gave a poetic reading of “Danza de la moza donosa” from the “Danzas Argentinas” of Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. As a final send off, the two pianists paired to play the Hungarian Melody, D.817 of Franz Schubert, as arranged by Mr. Staupe for four hands.
-Jeffrey Williams for New York Concert Review; New York, NY
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