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February 2016

Dénes Várjon Plays Zankel Hall

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.

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Nadia Sirota (and Friends) at Symphony Space

by Steven Pisano

Nadia Sirota
(All photos by Steven Pisano.)

One of the highlights of Nadia Sirota’s recent four-night residency at Symphony Space was the world premiere last Friday night of Irish composer Donnacha Dennehy’s Tessellatum, a 40-minute piece written for 11 viols and 4 violas, but here pared down to 4 viols and a viola.

The viol da gamba is not an instrument usually played in a standard orchestra. Unlike its cousins in the violin family, it uses frets to control sound, though it is bowed. It also has less volume and a gentler sound. But put a mass of viols together, and an interesting resonance results.

On stage for Tessellatum were violists Doug Balliet, Loren Ludwig, Zoe Weiss, and Liam Byrne (with whom Ms. Sirota has made a recording of the piece, to be released later this year by the Icelandic record label/collective Bedroom Community). Together they wove a richly knotted tapestry of sound, with Ms. Sirota’s swooping viola overstitching the top. Each musician also took a solo turn--sometimes slow and contemplative, other times staccato and anxious--exploring different musical timbres.

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