Inon Barnatan, Great Pianist, at Kaufmann Hall
The Premier Pianist of His Generation
By: Susan Hall - Dec 07, 2012
Inon Barnatan, Pianist
Kaufmann Concert Hall
New York, New York
December 6, 2012
Debussy, Suite Berganesque
Britten/Stevenson, Peter Grimes Fantasy
Ades, Darkness Visible
Ravel, La Valse
Schubert, Sonata in A Major, D 959
Inon Barnatan stands out among his contemporaries as a master of music. He takes imaginative leaps into music as it should be. No divo dramas to arrest the eye. He effortlessly makes you sit up to hear familiar music as though it were being introduced for the first time. How he does this does not matter. Over and over again he draws forth freshness from even the most frequently played compositions. He serves music first and foremost.
The overall arc of this program offers a picture of 'darkness visible,' the theme of Barnatan’s most recent recording. Compositions he performed at Kaufmann Hall ranged from the early 19th century to a recent Thomas Ades' piece.
The Ades’ piece, Darkness Visible casts a light on the structure of one of the earliest popular songs by John Dowland. Placement displaced, shifts in register, dynamic contrast, melodic omissions and juxtaposed tremolos are nailed down by Barnatan by holding the color of the music tight.
The Ades deconstructs traditional elements of music. It is focused on timbre and texture. In Barnatan's hands, even the Ades’ composed sounds which precede the melody at the conclusion sing.
The program began with Debussy, for whom Barnatan has an intimate and often surprising feel. Dance is part of Barnatan’s charm. In the Debussy, the passepied rollicked along. Ravel’s waltz reveals the most musical of dance steps.
Ronald Stevens’ Peter Grimes Fantasy takes themes from the Benjamin Britten opera, particularly the sea and hateful town, and weaves them into a Lisztian pianistic fantasy. Barnatan rose to pluck piano strings while holding down notes. He displayed ferocious passages with a compelling darkness. Extreme quiet is often in arresting contrast to ferocity.
Later in Schubert Barnatan would contrast a wild development section with the lyrical outer sections. Technically Barnatan is able to perform difficult music like child’s play. But he shines in the familiar passages which feel newly-minted. As much work as clearly goes into his technical supremacy, you do not sense the work as he performs melodies seemingly for the first time.
We don't usually think of music coming out of the great black hole of space, but just as the Higgs Boson was recently mapped by the cyclotron in Bern, Barnatan seems to find tone, rhythm, harmony and melody hanging in dark space. His musical sense is a revelation.
In repeated melodies, Barnatan played with a sense of time’s passage. Often the melody would first appear as a new friend, but in its repeat, it is remembered through time’s warp. He can perform as wild as a dervish in the devil’s passages, but his light touch is like no other pianist’s in the sheer beauty of the quiet.
The Schubert Scherzo was delightfully playful in its complex crosshand section before Barnatan unleashed a dramatic and passionate finale. Even this familiar music came across as an adventure. The audience would not let go of Barnatan, who played two encores including an adventurous and delightful Chopin Etude.
My pianist companion for the evening wrote afterwards: "I would describe, not originally, I'm sure, Barnatan's playing as a combination of amazing delicacy but not effeminate, and strong masculinity and strength when called for - the combination always a surprise, which when reviewed, seems perfect."
Perfect is perhaps a dangerous word, but it seems apt for Barnatan's performance.