by Nick Stubblefield
Serendipity first introduced me to Hungarian pianist Dénes Várjon. A friend of mine had deeply treasured some recordings of the Chopin Nocturnes when he was a kid, but only within the past few months identified the pianist, who was not credited on those recordings. It was Várjon. When the esteemed pianist announced his performance at Carnegie's Zankel Hall, naturally, my friend and I jumped at the chance to see him. A pianist with sublime technique and a broad range of interests, Várjon treated us to selections from Chopin, Haydn, Schumann, and Leoš Janáček.
Performances of Haydn, when handled without extreme care, have in the past come across to me as dry and lifeless. Varjon's interpretation, demonstrating clear intention and thoughtfulness, approached Haydn's Sonata in E Minor with grace and tenderness. His touch was light and airy, and it elevated the work with the necessary weightlessness.
The first half of the concert closed with Robert Schumann's beloved work for solo piano, Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17. A fast and powerful series of left-hand flourishes open the number, tapering off into gentler, melodic territory, then back again. This work, unlike Hadyn's Sonata, is hard to predict. A work like Schumann's would appeal to a classical pianist -- the technical demands are high, and always in flux. It was an audience pleaser at Zankel Hall, and Várjon poured an infectious energy and fun into his performance.