Endres wows ’em at Waikanae

Waikanae Music Society presents:
Michael Endres (piano)

SCHUBERT – Impromptus Op.142 (D.935)

CHOPIN – Barcarolle Op.60

RAVEL – Pavane pour une infante defunte / Jeux d’eau

GERSHWIN – Rhapsody in Blue (solo piano version)

Memorial Hall, Waikanae

Sunday, 2:30pm, 4th August 2013

The biographical note on pianist Michael Endres, reproduced on the back of the progranmme for his Waikanae recital, contains a number of critical responses from various parts of the world to his playing. Two of these judgements concurred exactly with my own reactions to Endres’ playing that afternoon – from a Boston newspaper came the comment that he was “one of the most interesting pianists recording today”; while the English Gramophone magazine declared that he was “an outstanding Schubert player”.

By the time Endres had finished the first of the four Impromptus Op.142 (or D.935) I was already inclining towards endorsing both statements. His playing for me gave a “freshly-minted” feel to the sounds, the music’s opening dramatic but not heavy, and the subsequent explorations a spontaneous flowing, by turns winsome and sombre.

What I particularly enjoyed was that he seemed like anything but a “right-hand” pianist. I felt he regarded the music as a tapestry whose strands at any place that was appropriate could be teased out and highlighted and given primacy in terms of the piece’s overall flow. He also brought out the wonderful “road music” quality of certain of the episodes, able to spin the melodies over long archways, with beautiful “lullabic” sounds.

Quicker with the opening of the A-flat Impromptu than either Kempff or Brendel on their respective recordings, Endres gave it a kind of folk-song-quality  rather than that of a hymn, one with a lusty, forthright chorus! – a beautiful flow was managed in the middle, like water coursing through rivulets, all nicely unmetrical and impulsive.

The third Impromptu was very like the same composer’s  Rosamunde music, playing with a real sense of listening to itself, and the variations following one another so naturally and organically. The fourth of the set was spiky and tangy, very Hungarian, I thought, characterful and flavoursome, with some wonderful “lurches” into different moods and atmospheres – incredible  swirlings, called to order by quasi-military fanfares! Endres’s playing certainly took the pieces out of the drawing room and set them in the wider, far more variegated world.

A similar kind of energy activated his performance of the Chopin Barcarolle, though I confess to preferring a more epic approach to the work than we got here – his was light and generally swift-moving, the figurations restless and volatile. I always like this music to generate a sense of journeying, of the prospect of great spaces to traverse, and of thus leaving something in reserve over the first few measures to grow into and enlarge.

However, Endres’s way was a very “here-and-now” experience, instead – the central section was swift and dramatic, splashy in places, in a way that went with the pianistic territory, of course. The agitations were even more oceanic at the opening’s return, leading up to and in the wake of the great cadential point – I thought it all too stormy for a Barcarolle, even one as epic-browed as this.  I wanted more spacious textures, moments which one could go so far as call poetic – but the pianist’s vision was of different things, which he certainly recreated with conviction.

I did like his Ravel – the famous Pavane was very boldly-presented, with a wide dynamic range and sharply-terraced contrasts (some people might have found it a bit too “iron hand in velvet glove”-like in places. He did, I thought, keep the music at arm’s length, showing little “hurt” in the sounds he made – I always think Ravel’s music much more “vulnerable” than Debussy’s in that respect. Whenever I hear this music I feel the presence of eyes looking out at the world from behind the mask, concealing the feelings; and there were the faintest touches of that tenderness here and there. By contrast, Jeux was all brilliance and no emotion, which is the ethos of the piece in any case, only the “laughter of the river-god” disturbing the equanimity – great virtuosity on the pianist’s part!  How interesting to think of Liszt’s fountains in his “Villa d’Este” piece next to Ravel’s evocations, and how much more feeling wells up from THOSE waters……..

Unexpectedly, the most disappointing item in the concert for me was the piano-only Rhapsody – it came across as somewhat “Jekyll-and-Hyde”-ish, because Endres seemed to take definite pains from the outset to differentiate between the solo piano part and the transcription of the orchestral parts. This was a good idea in theory, but in practice it resulted in his occasionally taking the music by the scruff of the neck and shaking it until bits fell off (and some did, in places!)….so, while the intent was perhaps laudable, its execution was too brusque, the music’s poetry too squeezed and its brilliance much too garbled in places.

Much of his playing, I thought, belied the title “Rhapsody” – here, some of the episodes suggested the piece ought to have been called “Toccata” or “Bacchanale”. I realise that Gershwin had to improvise some of his part at the first performance because he hadn’t finished writing it out, and so the element of spontaneity was authentic – but this was simply too ham-fisted and pugilistic an approach for me, I’m afraid, with, as I’ve said, bits dropping off the music when the going got really tough!!

But, who am I to criticise? – at the end of it, the pianist got something of a standing ovation! And I heard someone sitting near to me happily chortling, “Well, I’ve never heard Gershwin played quite like that before!” – obviously the hell-for-leather approach had as many admirers as it did doubters, if not more! It just goes to show how differently people actually HEAR music.

For myself, I’m happy to report that Endres played some more Gershwin at the concert’s end, and the results here were wrought of magic – these were, I think, exerpts from the “George Gershwin Songbook” for piano solo. Included in the selection was “The Man I Love”, “Lady Be Good” and “S’Wonderful”, plus another whose title I didn’t know. Michael Endres gave them everything that was missing, I thought, from his playing in the “Rhapsody” – here was charm, sentiment, fullness of tone, plenty of impulse and variety – so winning! – thus we ended the concert on what was, for me, a high note!

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