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RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, March 21, 2010
Kenn Gartner, Pianist

Kenn and Nora Gartner at JB Piano March 21 (E. Barcsak Photo)

GRANITIC PIANISM AT GARTNER'S SAN RAFAEL RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 21, 2010

Marin pianist Kenn Gartner takes his musical life in big chunks. He has a large load of private students, conducts choral groups, is part of a South Bay opera company and composes when time permits. On Bach’s birthday, March 21, he found time to tackle a large recital program at San Rafael’s JB Piano Company as part of the Concerts Grand series. He even brought his own piano to the store’s small stage.

It was fitting to begin with Bach’s “Concerto in the Italian Style,” BWV 971, and surprisingly the left-hand chords in measures one and five were arpeggiated. This was Bach with a lot of pedal and novel mordents. Sometimes the left and right hands were not together but the concluding presto was played with fire and more than the usual clarity. Mr. Gartner substituted Haydn’s brief Sonata in E Minor, Hob. XVI/34, for the programmed “Waldstein” Sonata of Beethoven, and in the opening presto he hit his stride with smooth scale playing and never seemed to be in a hurry. The finale began attacca as the composer intended, and though not a flawless reading, the performance had trim trills (all on the g note) and caught the humor of the piece.

Not to be deterred, the pianist decided from the stage to play the opening movement of the “Waldstein” (Sonata in C Major, Op. 53). Here the scale passages were not especially clear, and sections tended to run together. The right-hand skips were played accurately and the performance had a touch of the raucous patina that is part of this virtuosic piece, and the pianist made little change in tempo when the E Major second subject appeared. Though Mr. Gartner was sporadically taxed by the movement’s technical demands, he has incisive structural analysis and brings out counterpoint effectively.

Following intermission the powerful Brahms’ Rhapsodies of Op. 79 were played. Here Mr. Gartner was looking for inner voices and sharp contrasts, and these were most evident in the granitic B Minor Rhapsody. The G Minor was well played, the only intrusion in the momentum being several pauses and many ritards at the end of phrases. He is clearly a pianist for mountains peaks rather than flowery meadows.

Ravel’s “Miroirs” came next, a wonderful five-part exploration of impressionistic sound. Most memorable were the washes of rich color in Une barque sur l’ocean, the jazz-like rhythms from Alborado del Gracioso and the La vallée des cloches with its sonorous slow chords and pedal point.

Concluding the recital before 105 people was Liszt’s 10th Rhapsody in E Major, from the set of 15 published in 1853. Playing without score for the first time during the afternoon, Mr. Gartner launched into the fast scales and top-end trills with abandon, sacrificing subtlety for projection. In under six minutes, the piece shimmered with insouciant glissandi and brisk chords bordering on the comic. But it’s that kind of crowd-pleasing work and Mr. Gartner made the best of it.

Providing the most lyrical playing of the day, the pianist chose Respighi’s Notturno as an encore. The flowing melody over a gently lapping accompaniment was shaped in masterful fashion to a hushed and captivated audience.

The reviewer is the producer of Concerts Grand. Ken Iisaka contributed to the review.