A small-but-enthusiastic audience on Monday night enjoyed the latest performance in the Young Artists Series at the Kravis’ Rinker Playhouse: Pianist Michael Brown.
Juilliard-trained Brown has baccalaureate and master’s degrees from that prestigious institution, both with double majors in piano performance and composition. And he has won awards and accolades for both.
Charles Ives, influenced by the American Transcendentalist philosophers, believed that everything is related, “from a rock to a star.” Mr. Brown clearly believes the same, at least as far as music goes. His imaginative program matched works that inspired another creative figure or work.
The program began with three pieces by François Couperin. Brown’s approach imitated the harpsichord tradition, using an eccentric rubato to make up for that instrument’s lack of dynamic range. Whether this is advisable in a piano performance is debatable, though Brown’s ornamentation was quite stylish.
The next pair was Maurice Ravel and Joseph Haydn — the French master’s Prelude sur le nom de Haydn, and the Viennese master’s Sonata No. 54. Ravel created this brief but charming work based on a correspondence of letters of a composer’s name with pitches. Haydn’s sonata, only in two movements, begins with a minuet, a French dance with variations. Brown served up a muscular Haydn, which was quite an effective approach.
Next came Aaron Copland, in Leonard Bernstein’s arrangement of El Salon Mexico, which Brown delivered with sparkling rhythmic energy. Still, it wasn’t enough to make the listener forget Copland’s delightful orchestral colors.
Brown’s own answer to this work was his Homage to Copland, specifically to the Copland of El Salon Mexico. It had lots of syncopated passages and improvisations as if trying to recall the work.
The second half began with another work by the performer, Constellations and Toccata. Constellations was inspired by Brown’s colleague, pianist Orion Weiss, who was named for the constellation, also known as “the Hunter.” The Toccata was inspired by both the third of the Couperin set and the final movement of Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin.
Lest you think we forgot to establish a connection with the Couperin, here it is: Ravel’s gorgeous neo-Baroque suite. Of the Impressionists, it has been said that “[Claude] Debussy shimmers, Ravel glistens.” Brown approached the prelude glistening, a gossamer sound that lost a few of the melody notes. This is a perfectly common approach to Ravel, even if this reviewer prefers a more defined sound.
But the rest of the suite was the highlight of the performance. And the audience clearly agreed, and demanded an encore. Brown complied, with a lovely and stylish performance of Franz Liszt’s Valse Impromptu.
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