Feast of Music's Q2 Mixtape
The Oberlin Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

Anna Gourari at the German Consulate

by Nicholas Fernandez


Were it not for awkward programming, Anna Gourari's concert Thursday evening at the German Consulate could have reached the technical and emotional heights artists aim for when sharing their passion. Gourari is an agile pianist who overcame subpar acoustics to fill the banquet-hall-cum-concert-venue with lush chording and passionate interpretations, demonstrating considerable skill in navigating a wide range of styles.

The set drew from her November 2012 album, Canto Oscuro—which includes works by Bach, Chopin, and Hindemith—but it was a single movement of Jörg Widmann’s Fleurs du Mal, written specifically for Gourari, that disrupted the evening. It is not uncommon for a modern classical recital to cover such a wide range of styles, but Gourari’s decision to present only the third movement of Fleurs du Mal, "Satz: Caccia-Presto," a jarring, atonal two-minute flight throughout the entire range of the piano, failed to do Widmann justice. Sandwiched between works that identify their key signature in the title, Widmann’s piece drew concerned glances in the audience as Gourari delivered an unexpected modern jolt to the otherwise somber set by jumping head first into the repetitious banging of a single bass note. 

Both Gourari and her fans seemed more at home with the traditional rep, much of which she performed from memory, gazing skyward as if receiving divine inspiration. Gourari opened the evening with Busoni’s piano transcription of the “Chaconne” from Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, displaying a vast range of dynamics and emotion. With each iteration of the chord progression, Gourari introduced another facet of her artistic personality, and the work served as an overture for the range of emotions she would express throughout the evening. During Chopin’s B-flat Minor Scherzo, Gourari accented the sharp differences between flirty riffs and thick rolled chords, and her interpretation of the coda highlighted the work’s modern harmonic leanings.

The evening's odd programming continued with the final piece, Hindemith’s Suite ‘1922.’ Gourari presented only three of the work’s five movements, rearranging performance order in the process. Hindemith's reflection on postwar Germany expertly juxtaposes the excitement and despair of the time, and Gourari skillfully highlighted the many facets and personalities hidden within the work. Titles like "Shimmy" and "Ragtime" evoke a cabaret, which Hindemith exploits, looking behind the curtain into the despair that the Roaring '20s struggled to hide. Gourari followed these journeys, embracing the dark nature of the work and transitioning from dance-like melodies into angry rants with panache.

Unfortunately, the excerpted presentation and unconvincing finale diminished the work's effectiveness and gave the impression the concert could have started or ended at any point. A brief encore, the evening’s only piece in a major tonality, did little to mitigate the feeling of disorder. Gourari is skillful and passionate, and one can only hope future recitals will present her in better form.