Mark Gresham | 20 FEB 2019
This past Sunday afternoon, pianist Andrew von Oeyen performed a solo recital of music by Massanet, Dutilleux, Ravel and Liszt at the highly esteemed Spivey Hall at Clayton State University in Morrow, Georgia, on the south side of Atlanta.
The first half was comprised of French music. To open the program, von Oeyen played his own transcription of the famous “Méditation” from the 1894 opera Thaïs by Jules Massanet. It was a highly popular tune with generations before my own, one of those “classical melodies” that every cultured person was expected to know; so there are dozens of transcriptions for various instruments and even a vocal arrangement by Massanet himself that is a setting of the “Ave Maria” text.
It’s that vocal quality that von Oeyen brought out in his performance, which ascended beyond religious piety but did not become overstated, demonstrating with this simple, sentimental favorite his capacity for sensitive touch and singing tone.
The technical fireworks came soon enough with his next piece, Henri Dutilleux’s Prelude No. 3 (“Les Jeu des contraires”) – the last of that composer’s three solo piano preludes, written some years apart between 1973 and 1988. Dutilleux falls clearly within the stream of modern French music that includes Debussy, Ravel, Messiaen and Boulez, but possesses his own idiosyncratic stylistic stamp.
Although an atonal work, it is surprisingly accessible – an exciting piece with wide range of emotion. Quietly sensitive moments are contrasted with others of great fire and fury, the latter successfully brought to bear by the pianist with forceful intensity but without resorting to banging.
Maurice Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” rounded off von Oeyen’s offerings of French music for the afternoon. It was with this iconic modern take on the Baroque tradition of French keyboard suites that von Oeyen’s playing peaked in this set, both in technical facility and interpretation. If anyone had doubts during the nostalgic “Méditation” and the tumultuous “Prelude No. 3,” it was von Oeyen’s rendering of “Le Tombeau” that convinced one of his abilities beyond his clear and facile technique. Here, his prodigious proficiency was clearly set in the service of the music.
After intermission came Franz Liszt’s powerful Sonata in B minor, which von Oeyen recorded as the lead track on his 2011 debut solo album, Liszt: Piano Music (Delos 3412). Von Oeyen’s impressive performance of the Sonata on Sunday was insightful and colorful; with pedaling that was generous but without excess.
While its overall framework is sonata-like, von Oeyen’s approach allowed the listener to be very much in the moment, following the musical narrative as it progressed than try to over-analyze the composer’s well-cloaked structure. Even with a bevy of notable historical interpreters available on recordings, one could not have asked for a better current-day pianist than von Oeyen to serve as musical guide for the hike down that variegated forest path.
Returning to the stage after ovations, von Oeyen performed two encores. First, the “Abschied” (“Farewell”) from Robert Schumann’s Waldszenen, Op.82 (“Forest Scenes”), then George Gershwin’s song “The Man I Love” in an engaging rendition based mostly upon that of pianist Earl Wild, but including a section drawn from the composer’s own “party arrangement” plus embellishments by von Oeyen himself. Since an encore, that little bit of performer’s creative freedom was quite welcome. ■