La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Jon Kimura Parker Shines from Beethoven to Billy Joel

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

Once in a while, a concert pianist comes across as both virtuoso and versatile. That was the case at Koerner Hall on Nov. 8. The pianist was Canada’s own Jon Kimura Parker, whose afternoon recital began with two well-known Beethoven sonatas.

The Pathétique (Op. 13) and Appassionata (Op. 57) are two of Beethoven’s most beloved piano sonatas. Parker played both pieces with conviction and a clear sense of structures that kept the big picture in focus.

With Beethoven, rests are just as important as notes, and while Parker’s rests seemed peculiarly long at times (for example, the Grave in Pathétique), they created extra tension and drama in the beautiful, intimate Koerner Hall. The sound he produced from the shiny black Steinway was warm and luminous, but the contrast in dynamics was overwhelmed at times, especially in loud crescendos. The slow movements were simple and lovely, his voicing and tonal imagination unmatched.

Parker displayed flawless techniques and overactive fingers in the fast movements. However, while his finale in the Appassionata was thrillingly bang-on, it makes one puzzle as to why the infamous hand-crossing passage in the first movement of the Pathétique was not, with the secondary theme in the bass coming in late each time. Overall, Parker’s Beethoven was slightly over-pedaled, but it worked well in the stormy Appassionata.

After intermission, Parker introduced the audience to an entirely different program, which he said he had chosen to reflect Koerner Hall’s inclusion of a wide variety of music.

He began the second half of the recital with three pieces composed by American jazz pianist Chick Corea: Night Streets, Where Have I Known You Before?, and Got a Match?. Parker said he wanted to try something different and, while he didn’t improvise, he showed off his groovy side with equal flair nevertheless.

Next, it was John Adams’ China Gates. Written in 1977 with young pianists in mind, “gates” is a borrowed term from electronics and reflects the moments when the two modes in alternates in China Gates. Here, Parker gave a sensitive reading of the score and produced a poetic undulating realm that was both rich and subtle in colour and texture.

The final piece of the program was Stravinsky’s Petrushka arranged by Parker, who “retranscribed it according to my own ears and technique, and with an effort to reproduce more of the orchestral colours.” As well, he’s added a few of the sections that Stravinsky left out when he condensed the ballet into the piano suite, such as the Bear Dance, his 10-year-old daughter’s favourite. Parker gave his Petrushka a folksy swing that was riveting from beginning to end.

The recital concluded with two encores: Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G major, a piece Parker said he first learned at the Royal Conservatory of Music when he was 15, and Billy Joel’s Scenes From An Italian Restaurant, his high school anthem. If anyone could pull off a piano recital from Beethoven to Billy Joel, rocking the house on his way out, Jackie Parker would be it.

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