Pianofest, presented by Music Academy of the West

At Abravanel Hall, Saturday, June 17.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

Pianofest opened bombastically with eight extraordinarily
talented hands banging out Ernest Guiraud’s arrangement of
Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre. Despite marvelously deft performances
by Orion Weiss, the next two pieces — some Mozart “Variations” on a
theme from a Paisiello opera, and a bauble called “Sparks” by
Moritz Moszkowski — did little to improve my expectations.

Then Konstantin Soukhovetski strolled onstage in white, looking
like a character in a Chekhov play, gave us a gloriously lugubrious
rendition of the “Love-Death” from Wagner’s Tristan (as arranged by
Liszt), and my spirits perked up. Wagner is such a perfect symptom
of the late 19th-century European malaise. Then Soukhovetski played
a wonderful “Piano Rag” by George Rochberg that sent me, after I
returned home, into my record collection with a renewed interest in
this New Jersey native.

To close the first half, Weiss and that wild man, Alpin Hong,
played yet another set of “Variations” on that theme by Paganini —
this one, for two pianos, was by Witold Lutosławski, and
considerably more forceful and jittery than Rachmaninov.

Although the second half began with Jerome Lowenthal and
Soukhovetski giving an exquisitely irresolute reading of Debussy’s
Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, it was Hong who made the most
powerful impact, with his hilarious impressions of Lowenthal
addressing his students, his ineffably sweet performance of what is
virtually Lowenthal’s signature piece, Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of
Song,” and his furiously controlled rendering of Ginastera’s three
Argentine Dances, Opus 2 — the second of which was gorgeously
lyrical, yet harrowing.

After Lowenthal gave a sensitive reading of Wagner’s prelude to
act three of Lohengrin, the four pianists returned to the stage,
each to his own piano, and played a Milhaud travelogue called Paris
Suite. For an encore, the Maestro recited a Paul Verlaine poem, and
then all four pianists played Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.” It turned
out to be a very nice evening.


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