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Classical Thursdays Presents Pianist Francesca Khalifa

by Nick Stubblefield


Classical Thursdays, a new concert series hosted in Bedford-Stuyvesant, presented its penultimate show of the year last week with pianist Francesca Khalifa, who performed a well-rounded program of Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, and Debussy to an enthusiastic crowd at the Brooklyn Center for the Arts. The nine-part series features skilled artists from around the world in various chamber configurations, nearly all featuring the piano. Khalifa, a recent winner of the Ferrara International Piano Festival, also serves as the Artistic Director for the Classical Thursdays series.

A trio of pieces from J.S. Bach started the night. The sonatina from Actus Tragicus and Sheep may safely graze from the Cantata No. 208 established Khalifa's elegant touch and thoughtful restraint, while the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue in D minor offered something more meaty: a piece rich in dense textures and dissonances. There's little bombast in any of Bach's music -- they often satisfy at the cerebral level with subtle details, so it's all the more vital that the pianist show such attention to those details. 

The first half of the program closed with Beethoven's Sonata in E Major, Op. 109. In typical Beethoven fashion, the work meanders through intense mood swings, starting melodically and calm before reaching sad and angry crescendos. Playing Beethoven can feel at times like taming a wild beast, but Khalifa had fun with it, playing confidently. 


The second-half of the program continued with works by Franz Liszt, a composer known for being a virtuoso pianist himself. The Klavierstuck in F sharp Major, S. 192 began sparsely, and like many Romantic-era works, rather song-like. Liszt's music demands a good balance between left and right hands, and here again, Khalifa displayed a thorough understanding. 

There is good reason that the piano has long been a mainstay in so many forms of music. It has the unique ability to substitute for a whole orchestra, filling out the highs, lows, and mid-range sounds in a way no other instrument can. Khalifa's performance of Debussy's beloved Images, Book I, which ended the eveningperfectly demonstrated this. The piece's elegant swells, arpeggios, and runs cascaded across the full range of the piano, perfectly simulating the sound of waves crashing in the sea. 

The Classical Thursdays series concludes tomorrow night with the Julius Quartet, performing music by Haydn, Penderecki, and Beethoven. More info here