by Nick Stubblefield
Award-winning pianist Larry Weng performed a brilliant set Thursday night at SubCulture, which has quickly become one of the hottest - and my favorite - places to hear music in the city, thanks to great acoustics, a cozy atmosphere, and a quality Steinway piano. The show opened with a short piece by Horatio Parker: an American composer and a mentor to Charles Ives at Yale. The piece, La Sauterelle, had a playful, bouncy rhythm to it, with some great jazzy runs in the right hand. Composed in 1899, it had the sound of something that might be played in a wealthy man's parlor room.
La Sauterelle proved to be a great lead-in for the surprise-hit of the evening: Charles Ives' Piano Sonata No. 1. When I listen to music, I often find that my brain conjures various images and emotions. Ives' music almost does the opposite -- it sets up images that you might expect, then smashes them right as they begin to form. Weng's handling of the complex musical structures was magnificent. Not only did he handle the many technical challenges with grace, but he brought artistry and emotion to the themes, making it look like a whole lot of fun in the process.
Next were Maurice Ravel's beautiful Sonatine and Miroirs, which Weng played with a light, refined touch. In contrast to Ives, Ravel's music conjures strong, defined images. In particular, the third movement of the Sonatine, "Animé," was brilliantly executed: it's lightning fast and dense at times, but Weng played it cleanly and with great dynamic range.
Weng graced us with an encore, but rather than play something showy, he played Claude Debussy's La plus que lente: a delicate, atmospheric work which left me in a very pleasant and reflective mood. There's no better way to end your Thursday night.