Schubert: Four Impromptus, Op.90
Gareth Farr: Sepuluh Jari
Liszt: Sonata in B minor
Gottschalk: Bamboula, Souvenir de Puerto Rico, Souvenir d’Andalousie
Waikanae Music Society: Michael Endres (piano)
Waikanae Memorial Hall
Sunday 15 May 2011, 2.30pm
A large audience greeted Michael Endres, a German pianist who is Professor of Piano at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. He presented a varied and ambitious programme of quite lengthy works, including one by Gareth Farr, dating from 1996.
It was a delight to have the Schubert Impromptus on the programme. Rhythm was strongly emphasised, and there was never too much pedal. Endres had great dynamic control. Altogether, it was hard to imagine these pieces being played better, among contemporary pianists. Endres’s formidable technique was always at the service of the music. He does not move excessively at the keyboard, thus there is not the distraction one occasionally sees.
The first impromptu was like a plaintive song, as are so many in Schubert’s great songs: the ‘Wanderer’ songs, and Winterreise song cycle. Alongside this was a march-like quality, and then a dance-like second section. It was played with great delicacy, yet firmness.
The second had a totally different character – very fast and virtuosic. There were gentle episodes, but a fast and furious ending, while the well-known third was a joy to hear. The fourth, also familiar, was played probably faster than usual, but did not lose its lyricism or contrasts.
Rushing forward 170 years, we were confronted with Gareth Farr’s humorous and distinctive Toccata Sepuluh Jari (the title means ten fingers), which he attributes to J.S. Bach, quoting an imagined letter from the master, from the Island of Bali. As the programme note states, the ‘piano is partly used as a percussion instrument’, which most Balinese instruments are. However, it is important to note that percussion is not always loud. This was an inspired piece, and very musical and playable – by someone as skilled as Endres. It was very demanding and incessant, but an impressive piece of writing and playing. It was both melodic and dramatic, and occasionally even explosive.
Liszt’s monumental sonata is a tour-de-force to play from memory, being close to 30 minutes long. There is much dynamic contrast, even at the beginning. In places, the work is almost orchestral, while in others, delicately melodic, and yet others, blatantly theatrical, especially the ending. It features a motif repeated in various forms throughout the work, interesting rhythmic patterns and cross-rhythms; these are quite magical in places. The mood changes frequently; sometimes contemplative, at other almost aggressive, all based on a limited amount of musical material.
Endres brought variety and subtlety to this mighty sonata, which gave Waikanae’s new Fazioli piano a good workout, showing off its delicacy of timbre as well as its capacity for triple forte playing. Only once was I aware of a note failing to meet the challenge. Liszt was extremely well served.
For something completely different, Endres played Gottschalk’s three pieces. The sparkling Latin-American rhythms appropriately received much less sustaining pedal than did the previous two works.
The first began in a minor key, with an attractive, tender melody. The lyrical middle section was followed by a rousing ending. The second piece (sub-titled ‘Marche de Gibaros’, or March of the Peasants) had much charm as well as delightful rhythms. The final piece was full of fire – a virtuosic ending with powerful bravura. I must admit to thinking that pieces like this are designed to show off the skills of the performer rather than give vent to real musical expression (American Gottschalk was a virtuoso pianist). Nevertheless, Endres gave a persuasive reading as well as fulfilling all the technical demands.
An utterly charming encore, played in the top register of the piano was a piece that sounded like a musical box. After many beautiful arabesques, the mechanism gradually wound down, and then had a final flourish. It was Boîte à Musique, by Pierre Sancan, a French composer who died in 2008 (born 1916).
Michael Endres is a formidable yet refined pianist, and fully deserved the enthusiastic applause with which he was greeted after his encore.