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CHAMBER REVIEW
The Thursday Musical Club / Thursday, November 18, 2010
Kenn Gartner, piano

Kenn Gartner Speaks of Composer Robert Palmer Nov. 18 in Tiburon

GARTNER'S ECLECTIC PIANISM FEATURED IN TIBURON RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kenn Gartner is Marinís eclectic pianist, and his playing Nov. 18 during a short recital in Tiburonís Community Congregational Church underscored his inquisitive musical and intellectual nature.

Sponsored by the decades-old Thursday Musical Club, the concert featured mostly familiar music of Bach, Haydn, Liszt and Chopin, but with many unconventional touches. Mr. Gartner performed most of these pieces March 21 in a recital for Concerts Grand at San Rafaelís J-B Piano Store, but in the charming hilltop church setting his playing was more secure, expansive and engaging.

Haydnís E Minor Sonata, Hob. XVI, began the recital in an aggressive style but with surprisingly little pedal. This approach helped clarity throughout the Sonata, as the roomís acoustics were hampered throughout by muffled sound above a mezzo forte. The Adagio was characterized by arching lines in the right hand, even trills and precise block chords. The vivace molto finale again was lightly pedaled but lacked sonic differentiation and subtlety of phrase.

Mr. Gartner seemed to be aiming at harpsichord effects in Bachís popular Concerto in the Italian Style (S. 971), a three-movement work that demands artistic individuality. The pianist provided same with small appoggiaturas, expressive arpeggios and inner voices in the left hand. He arpeggiated the last chords in the first and final movements, a welcome romantic touch, and held the middle movement penultimate chord pianissimo before deftly resolving into the single note in g. Lovely indeed.

Lisztís Third Liebestraum, originally a song for low voice and piano, received a justly lyrical performance with a long pedal fermata at the middle, emphasizing the picturesque nature of an evanescent love dream. There were pianistic and memory problems in the performance, ultimately offset by some pearly right-hand scale passages.

American composer Robert Palmer, a teacher of Mr. Gartner, died in July at 95, and the pianist, after an emotional spoken introduction to the audience of 80, played Palmer's popular Toccata Ostinato. Room acoustics aside, the clangorous composition was presented with rhythmic power, differentiation of sound and striking left-hand chords running up and down the keyboard. The loud and curt sforzando ending caught many in hall by surprise. The dissonances and boogie-woogie style still are effective, though the piece was composed as long ago as 1945.

Chopin completed the recital, beginning with the two masterful Nocturnes from Op. 27. The C-Sharp Minor was true to the score, the piu mosso (bar 29) and agitato (measure 53) sections carefully observed. Mr. Gartner favored half pedal in the lyrical return of the modulated theme and produced a captivating ending ascending phrase and C Sharp chord. In The D-Flat Nocturne, a seminal masterpiece, the playing was frankly old fashioned with broken chords and many subtle points of rubato. Some of the right-hand runs did not sound, and in the coda the ascending chordal run in sixths was troublesome for the pianist. A rollicking reading of Chopinís B Minor Scherzo, Op. 20, finished the formal program, the pianist throwing caution to the winds in the restless first theme and the fiery and taxing coda.

The energetic applause produced two encores, the first Respighiís Notturno. Here Mr. Gartner emphasized the flowing melody over a gently lapping chordal accompaniment. It has become almost a signature piece for the pianist and recalled a lazy warm summer afternoon rather than the cool November breezes outside. It was followed by Moszkowski's F Major study, from the Op. 76 "Etude de Virtuositť," a favorite of Horowitz and Pletnev and, in Mr. Gartner's performance, a delectable bon bon for the audience.