La Scena Musicale

Sunday, November 15, 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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This Week in Toronto (November 16 - 22)

Adrianne Pieczonka (Photo: Andreas Klingberg)

Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka, in my mind - and the minds of many - is Canada's reigning prima donna. Possessing a beautiful and versatile lyric soprano and generous stage presence, Pieczonka is enjoying a high powered international career, in demand from Munich to San Francisco to the Met. Since moving back to Canada after spending some fifteen years living in Vienna and London, she has managed to enjoy the best of both worlds- continuing her European appearances in the leading houses there, as well as singing and living at home and in the U.S. She will appear as Amelia opposite the Simon Boccanegra of the great Placido Domingo at the Met in January, and it will be part of the Met in HD series shown in 42 countries around the world. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, you can hear Adrianne - for free! - when she gives a noon-hour concert at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater, at the Four Seasons Centre. She will be accompanied by Elizabeth Upchurch in a selection of arias from her new all-Puccini CD, recently released on the Orfeo label. I am not positive about this, but I imagine there will be discs for sale at that time. This is sure to be a full house so I advise anyone interested to show up at least 45 minutes early to line up.

Another interesting recital at the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheater, FSC is that of pianist Sergei Saratovsky, on the very next day (Nov. 18th noon). Saratovsky received the best Canadian at the 2008 Montreal International Musical Competition, piano edition. I recall his excellent playing when I covered the finals last year, and this recital is well worth attending. On the program is Debussy's Estampes and Schumann''s Carnaval.

On the subject of pianists, Chinese-Canadian piano phenom Yuja Wang is in town with the Shanghai Symphony at Roy Thomson Hall on Nov. 16, 8 pm. She is one in a long line of Chinese pianists with a big technique, which she will be showing off in Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, conducted by Long Yu. Also on the program is a Chinese piece and Mussorgksy's Prelude to his opera Khovanchina.

Now that the COC's fall season is over, the opera house becomes a ballet house, featuring the National Ballet of Canada's Sleeping Beauty from Nov. 13 to the 22. Performances this week are on 18, 19, 20, 21 at 7:30 pm, and 22 at 2 pm. Aurora will be shared by a whole bunch of ballerinas, with the prima danced by Heather Ogden. Others are Xiao Nan Yu, Sonia Rodriquuez, Jillian Vanstone and Stacey Minagawa. The Prince is led Guillaum Cote, with Jason Reilly, Zdenek Konvalinaa and Piotr Stanczyk to follow. The great Rex Harrington is now a character dancer, as King Florestan. The roots of the NBC are in the classics, and this piece, with its wonderful Tchaikovsky score and Petipa choreography, remains a perennial favourite. It is definitely not to be missed.

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