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REVIEW

Pianist John Bayajy at his Pt. Reyes Recital March 27

SONOROUS BACH TRANSCRIPTION HIGHLIGHTS BOYAJY'S DANCE PALACE RECITAL

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, March 27, 2011

Marin Pianist John Boyajy’s concerts are never conventional. His usual mix of extended verbal introduction and musical performance can be unsettling if the balance isn’t right. In a Point Reyes Station recital at the Dance Palace March 27 all was in equilibrium, the music sparkling and the commentary persuasive and enlightening.

Before and audience of 90 on a wet and blustery afternoon the program began with Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Sonata in D, Op. 28, an innovative work from 1801. Playing from score as he did the entire concert, Mr. Boyajy choose judicious tempos coupled with an aggressive approach, his scale passages clear and rippling. In the long and convoluted Andante he caught the movement’s humor, and the Scherzo was engaging.

In the finale (Rondo) the pianist played the sweeping arpeggiated passages and syncopated rhythms with élan, the middle section forceful and sometimes a bit loud. The composer’s endless inventiveness led to several deceptive closing cadences and Mr. Boyajy held the music back at times, clarifying the bucolic nature with ample ritards at bars 123 and 192. In all, a muscular and well thought out interpretation.

Four Liszt works followed, the Soirées de Vienne No. 6 being added to the program and introduced in a theatrical but prescient analysis by the artist. The Sonetto Del Petrarca 104, from the second book of the Années de Pèlerinage, began the set with the pianist providing a muscular and declamatory reading. The left hand chordal playing was distinct and the romantic fervor of the work clearly conveyed. In several places small hesitations interrupted the musical line, not caught by the damper pedal.

Late in his life Liszt wrote four works with the title Valse Oubliée, and before intermission Mr. Boyajy selected the first. His pianism provided the necessary charm but the performance was not wholly successful, as the waltz needed a lighter touch in the fast sections.

The sixth Soirée came after intermission, one of nine transcriptions Liszt made of Schubert waltzes. These are “mit schlag” works and the sixth was a favorite of Rosenthal and Horowitz. Here Mr. Boyajy pushed the sound, his deft left hand never overplaying the “om pa pa” rhythms. Another piece from the Italian book of travels, Sposalizio, closed the Liszt group and was characterized by playing of high drama. The pianist favored drawn-out ritards and strongly accented eight bass notes, bringing the right hand into sharp relief. The forte passages were vehement and bordered at times in stridency, perhaps contributed to by the piano’s treble and the flat wood floor in the hall.

Bach’s Chaconne (BWV 1004), the concluding movement in the D Minor Sonata for solo violin, is a pinnacle of violin performance and has been transcribed by composers as disparate as Raff, Siloti, Brahms, Busoni, Hamelin and the conductor Leopold Stokowski. Mr. Boyajy has melded both the Busoni and Siloti versions into a 15-minute work of monumental power, albeit with several of his own additions, and the Pt. Reyes performance was presumably a premiere of sorts. For me it was the highlight of the afternoon, an odyssey of rich sound that in the upper reaches of the piano reflected certain registers of the organ. The pianist was in no hurry throughout, the slow running octave passages in both hands always pungent and the phrasing graceful. The recitative sections were played with welcome surcease to the orchestral sonorities, and here and there an inner voice was emphasized. Surprisingly, the massive final chord was followed with three decidedly unmassive single notes. Were these Mr. Boyajy’s benediction for the triumphant journey?

A standing ovation greeted the Chaconne’s singular accomplishment, but no encore was offered.