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RECITAL REVIEW

Lydia Artymiw Playing György Kurtag in Newman March 7

SHORT PIECES WITH A LONG REACH

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 7, 2010

It’s seldom that the high points of a piano recital are contained in repertoire that is short, dissonant, unfamiliar and mostly loud. At Lydia Artymiw’s March 7 recital for Concerts Grand in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium, the music of Kurtag and Messiaen had for this reviewer emotional impact far beyond their succinct duration and novel rhythms

Before a small audience of 63, Ms. Artymiw preceded the performance of three of Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jésus with a cogent analysis of Regard de l’Etoile (Gaze of the Star), Regard de la Vierge (Gaze of the Virgin) and Premiere Communion de la Vierge (First Communion of the Virgin). The commentary was minus any puffery and crisply connected the composer’s beliefs as a Catholic mystic with his infatuation with bird call motifs in music. The actual playing was vivid and intense in its story telling. For some the expressive use of rubato may have distracted from the numerological aspects, especially in the Regard de la Vierge, but everywhere the angular motives and contrasting lines were played consummate clarity. Was this first performance of any major Messiaen piano work in the local area?

Hungarian composer György Kurtag began in 1973 his “Játékok (“Games”) as a counterpart to his countryman Bartok’s “Mikrokosmos,” and is still composing additions at age 84. Ms. Artymiw chose seven segments, some lasting only 20 seconds, and each was full of avant garde technical explorations and intriguing silences. In their unique way they are a delight to the ear, cleansing any resemblance to the anniversary year of Chopin and Schumann. The Helyettem kis virag (Lovely greetings to Grete Spinnrad) was particularly alluring.

But it was with Schumann that the recital ended, his Fantasiestücke, Op. 12, receiving a fanciful reading with convincing rhythmic vigor throughout. Ms. Artymiw often stretched the breaks between phrases a bit too long, but the conceptions were thoroughly planned and played with a masterful touch and tone. The opening Des Abends was a sensual night song, the In der Nacht had multiple layers of melodic beauty in one hand, and in Traumes Wirren Ms. Artymiw's right-hand rotation technique was flawless. It wasn’t Schumann for the conventional taste.

In the same vein, Mozart’s B-Flat Major Sonata, K. 333, the recital’s opening work, was performed with stylistic authority and Ms. Artymiw’s handling of the bold harmonies in the Allegro. Her right-hand passage work was pellucid, and the cadenza in the concluding Allegretto grazioso (yes, a cadenza in a piano sonata) had just the right voicing leading to its inception. Mr. Artymiw is not afraid of making Mozart muscular, and is never in a hurry to make her artistic points.

There was one encore, Mendelssohn’s Venetian Boat Song No. 2, Op. 30, No. 6. Here there was close attention paid to subtle changes in volume, and the right-hand trills in E Sharp and C Sharp positively shimmered. The final descent to the piannissimo F Sharp was played with a hint of mystery.

The reviewer is the producer of Concerts Grand, and Marin pianist Ken Iisaka contributed to the commentary.