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RECITAL REVIEW
Concerts Grand / Sunday, October 17, 2010
Sara Daneshpour, piano

Sara Daneshpour Receiving Applause Following Prokofiev's Toccata

DANESHPOUR'S VIRTUOSITY WOWS AUDIENCE IN CONCERTS GRAND SEASON OPENER

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sara Daneshpour’s Oct. 17 recital launching the 8th Concerts Grand season began with what might be called anxious anticipation from the audience in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium. The program contained mostly brawny virtuoso works, and the first appearance of the petite pianist brought to many minds the thought that musical demands could trump the young artist’s abilities. At the recital’s end, no one in the hall had any such doubts. Big things do come in small packages.

Haydn’s F Major Sonata (Hob XVI/23) began the program and Daneshpour’s supple and commanding technique was immediately put on display, the Moderato architecturally constructed and the finger staccato and pearly scales telling. The center of the piece is the captivating Adagio and here the pianist lavished chaste phrasing, underscoring the pensive character of the music. The concluding Presto was an aggressive romp, never pounded and the quiet sections under complete control. It’s difficult to play really fast and piano but this pianist does it easily.

Liszt “Rigoletto” transcription followed, a vocal tour de force from the famous quartet of Verdi’s 1859 opera. Here the playing became outsized, the thematic projection broad and often thunderous. Ms. Daneshpour took her time in the early declamatory parts and slowed gently before the three sets of descending octaves at the end, the effect bringing many in the audience of 90 to standing applause. The pianist wasn’t limited to just playing running octaves, as she commanded rarely-heard legato octaves just prior to the coda. Jorge Bolet's recording comes to mind.

Brahms’ forceful Paganini Variations from Book II concluded the first half in a blaze of jagged and impressive virtuosity. The 14 short variations demand a consummate technique from any executant, and Ms. Daneshpour played each with mastery. Musically her playing generated several lovely inner voices (third variation) and awe-inspiring accuracy with the treacherous right-hand skips. It wasn’t a note-perfect reading, and the piano sound could be “clattering” at times, but such trivial shortcomings vanished in the grandeur of the performance. A formidable mountain of music, prodigiously climbed. A standing ovation was the artist’s reward.

Honoring the Schumann bicentennial, The Op. 1 “Abegg” Variations opened the second half, three variations and a brilliant finale. Here even and fast scale passages are the norm and they were played with a deft touch, the tempos fast and the cross-hand technique infallible. Rachmaninoff’s richly-scored Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op. 42, came next and Ms. Daneshpour lavished the most color of the afternoon on haunting 20 variations from 1932. The stately theme foretold a journey of many and varied stanzas, the textures luxuriant but spiced with dissonances uncommon in Rachmaninoff’s music. Ms. Daneshpour’s playing here turned orchestral, variations five through seven positively sparkling. Her touch changed with each new section and she never seemed to be in a hurry. The playing had mystery, even when she used two fingers to hammer bass notes until the piano fairly screamed, and once she had four fingers on a single key.

Prokofiev’s perpetual motion Op. 11 Toccata concluded the program, just over four minutes of driving rhythms and high-volume repeated notes, played like a machine. Of course the performance brought down the house, but surprisingly didn’t elicit the expect encore.

Prior to the formal program Ms. Daneshpour honored the memory of two Concerts Grand patrons that recently died, Jim Burns and Ron Antonioli, with a sensitive and appropriately sad performance of the Scriabin Prelude in C Sharp, Op. 9, for the left hand. The emotional effect was palpable.

The reviewer is the producer of the Concerts Grand series