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RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane

KAHANE RECITAL HELPS INAUGURATE SCHROEDER HALL

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jeffrey Kahane returns frequently to Sonoma County in conducting and concerto performance, but rarely in recital. Two past solo events come to mind, a "fantasy" program where the Copland outshone the Schumann and Chopin, and an uneven concert capped by Chopin's F Minor Ballade.

A jammed Schroeder Hall audience heard Mr. Kahane August 23 in a short recital during the opening weekend's events. He began with Beethoven's C Minor "Pathétique" Sonata, Op. 13. After playing a riveting slow first-movement statement, he selected a tempo that he could not sustain without wrong notes and blurred scales. He took the repeat and emphasized momentum and sharp contrasts at the expense of sonic clarity.

The Adagio movement had a stable tempo and lovely phrasing, but in the finale Mr. Kahane returned to a muscular approach, the Sonata's drama finally overcoming pianistic transparency.

Four Chopin works concluded the afternoon, and though the pianist understands the structural nature of the pieces, he is not an innate Chopin interpreter. The E Flat Nocturne of Op. 55 had little rhythmic subtlety and was over-pedaled, a shadow of Friedman's iconic 1936 recording. The arpeggiated final chord was novel, and the repeated A flats in the treble were bursts of beguiling light.

Two Mazurkas followed from Op. 56 (C Minor, No. 3) and Op. 50 (C-Sharp Minor, No. 3). These were workmanlike readings, a little loud for the small hall, with the middle section of the wonderful C-Sharp Minor receiving the most persuasive playing. Chopin's mazurkas are tiny gems with amazing harmonic twists that Mr. Kahane played with finish but not with the requisite deft touch and rhythmic "lift."

A specialty piece for the pianist, the Op. 52 Ballade was given a passionate performance where the parts didn't quite add up to a potent whole. Here too much damper pedal muddied and clipped the endings of phrases, and passagework and right-hand chords were blurred. The chorale section was beautifully shaped, taking advantage of the Schroeder piano's mellow tone quality. In less than 10 minutes Chopin wrote a work of cosmic power and visceral impact, both carefully unfolding under Mr. Kahane's fingers and feet but never quite scaling an emotional peak.

A standing ovation brought an encore of Schubert's B Flat Impromptu from Op. 142. The swirls of left-hand notes were captivating and the long fermata quietly ended the Schroeder's first piano recital.