La Scena Musicale

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Lortie not Himself in Chopin Recital

By L.H. Tiffany Hsieh

I was one of the few people who didn’t give Louis Lortie a standing ovation at Koerner Hall this afternoon.

I have a deep respect for Lortie, who has long been a favourite pianist of mine, and not because he's Canadian. I have attended many of his concerts and masterclasses and he has never let me down before. Just last March, when he played Ravel’s G major Piano Concerto with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, I quietly shed a few tears during the moving adagio.

However, Lortie was a very different pianist in an all-Chopin recital today. He struggled with some of the most rudimentary things such as memory lapses, which, as human as he is, just should not happen at his virtuoso level.

The program, built around Chopin’s four ballades and key-matching nocturnes (except for the third ballade in A-flat major), flopped from the beginning with the pairing of the G minor Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 3 and the G minor Ballade. Playing them as one continuous piece, the ballade’s solemn and weepy opening introduction in octaves felt out of place after Lortie gave the mazurka-like nocturne a groovy, jazzy treatment. Maybe the gentle Op. 37, No. 1 Nocturne in the same key with its choral middle section would have worked better.

The coupling of the F major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 1 with the F major Ballade was more successful in character, as was the case between the F minor Nocturne, Op. 55, No. 1 and the F minor Ballade. However, instead of the cheerful A-flat major Nocturne, Op. 32, No. 2, Lortie chose the E-flat major Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 2 and the C minor Nocturne, Op. 48, No. 1 to precede the A-flat major Ballade.

The rest of the program was made up with the Berceuse in D-flat major, the F-sharp major Nocturne, Op. 15, No. 2 and the Barcarolle, also in F-sharp major.

Overall, there was some really nice, warm sound coming from the piano, even though the instrument’s higher register seemed often overpowered by its lower counterpart. However, Lortie’s playing came across choppy most of the time due to erratic use of rubato, his chords were not always dead-on, and his running passages, albeit technically brilliant, were sometimes sloppy in their manner of care. All of this is uncharacteristic of the kind of precision player Lortie is known for.

Playing all four Chopin ballades in one concert is a major undertaking for any pianist. Throw in some nocturnes and two of the most popular pieces by the composer and it’s a daunting recital in more ways than one. After an overwhelming standing ovation, and a few shouting bravos, Lortie ended the recital on a good note, playing theD-flat major Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2 to perfection. It was by far the best playing of the afternoon, but it was too little too late.

That being said, I still look forward to Lortie’s next recital when the pianist is likely to be more himself.

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