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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 5, No. 6

Canadian Pianists

by Arthur Kaptainis / March 1, 2000

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Is Glenn Gould the only Canadian pianist of note? In this second part of our "Piano Special", La Scena Musicale focuses on our Canadian pianists. We asked music critics and other experts in the field to share their thoughts about favourites. Worth discovering!

Travel through time

By Arthur Kaptainis
(music critic, The Gazette, Montreal)

Andre LaplantePast: Were there pianists of substance before Glenn Gould? The discography is silent on this subject. There were some prodigies: Ellen Ballon in Montreal and Mona Bates in Toronto who turned into patrons or pedagogues. Andr Mathieu, alas, became a drunk. It is interesting to note that the multi talented Sir Ernest MacMillan, who trained as an organist and busied himself mainly as a conductor, visited Rudolf Serkin in Vermont and was told by the master that he played piano "like a very good pianist who hasn't kept up his practice." Still, Gould is obviously in a league of his own. I like his interpretations of Scriabin, which sound emotionally spontaneous as well as brilliant in the usual Gould ways.

Present: Of the many fine students of Yvonne Hubert, Andr Laplante (b. 1949) is the most temperamental and thus the most interesting. Like any circuit pro, he maintains a high standard, but on some nights (or even in some recording sessions) he can give you that extra something, that total integration of personality and music that most of us associate with the lost art of the romantic virtuoso. Liszt by Laplante, when he is on, is about as good as it gets. I am also big on Angela Hewitt's Bach. After doing some comparing a few months ago I was struck by how much fresher she sounded than Richard Goode, to name one American pianist of considerable renown.

Future: "The standard of mediocrity is constantly rising," Leon Fleisher once told me in an interview at Tanglewood. There are so many competent student pianists now, it is hard to single out the exceptional talents. I was impressed two years ago by what David Jalbert, a Rimouski pianist then 20, could do with Ravel's Concerto for the Left Hand in a performance with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. This is obviously a work that exposes technical and tonal weaknesses quite mercilessly, yet Jalbert made it sound full, passionate and built from the bottom up.

Greta Kraus

By Tamara Bernstein
(Classical Music Critic, The National Post)

Greta KrausGreta Kraus's students used to joke that just being in the same room as her made them play more musically. And they were right: every atom in this Viennese-born pianist, harpsichordist and Lieder coach was saturated in musicality. When she played a phrase, it was as if she had brushed the score with a magical wash that revealed its inner life, structure and soul. And she did have an aura: when you entered her house for a lesson, you felt as though you were leaving the mundane world behind, and entering a realm of pure music. Kraus came to Canada in 1938, fleeing the Nazis (she was half Jewish). Her performing career unfolded primarily as a harpsichordist, but in 1979 and 1981 she teamed up with soprano Lois Marshall for two unforgettable Lieder evenings at Hart House, one of which - a performance of Schubert's Schne Mllerin - is available on CD. Though the construction of her harpsichord, and her stylistic approach, have become dated, the passion and sheer musicality of her performances are as exhilarating and inspiring as ever.

Janina Fialkowska

By Tamara Bernstein

Janina FialkowskaGorgeous sound; big "chops"; a magical sense of timing and rubato; emotional generosity and risk-taking; individuality - what else does a pianist need? Well, a fancy-shmancy contract with a major record label 10 years ago, or a "selling point" such as an obsession with wolves -- would probably have given Janina Fialkowska that extra edge of fame that she richly deserves. Then again, part of Fialkowska's appeal is her honesty - musical and personal -- and in interviews she's never made any bones about the fact that there are far too many recordings in the world, or hesitated to declare her strong preference for the live stage. The Montreal-born pianist specializes in the big romantics -- Chopin, Liszt and Szymanowski are the lynchpins of her repertoire. On stage, Fialkowska never plays it safe emotionally - a welcome relief from the assembly-line performances one so often hears nowadays. The keen sense of the here-and-now in her performances also derives from her interaction with the attentive silence in the hall. When she's at her best, as in a memorable all-Chopin recital two years ago in Toronto, the spell is magical. Her Liszt is so free of cheap sentimentality and vulgar display that she actually makes me like the guy.

It's scandalous that her recording, Fialkowska Plays Chopin: 24 Etudes, poetic, imaginative wasn't even nominated for the Juno award they deserved. In Fialkowska Plays Szymanowski, her ardent performance of the Etude Op. 4, No. 3 - an amorous dialogue that invokes both Chopin and Rachmaninoff -- is not to be missed.

Francine Kay

By Jean-Pascal Hamelin

Francine KayFrancine Kay, noted for interpretations "com-pelling in their individuality" (Ottawa Citizen) is widely recognized as a pianist with a unique artistic voice.

Her first commercial recording, the complete set of Debussy Preludes, was nominated for a Juno Award in 1996 and has won unanimous critical acclaim.
Francine Kay received her early musical training in Montreal with Yvonne Hubert. She obtained her Bachelor and Master of Music degrees at the Juilliard School, where she studied with Adele Marcus before pursuing her studies with Marek Jablonski and Leon Fleisher. Ms Kay has been the featured soloist with many North American orchestras (she made her debut with the Toronto Symphony in 1988) and has performed as a recitalist in major cities and concert halls. She also appears regularly with Penderecki String Quartet.

Hopefully, we'll get to hear this refined musician more often in Montreal.

Marc-Andr Hamelin

By Tamara Bernstein

Marc-Andr HamelinThough he's no stranger to Scena readers, I can't ignore that champion of all things obscure and unplay-able: Marc-Andr Ham-elin. Thanks to the enlightened folks at Hyperion Records in the U.K., Hamelin has dredged up and rehabilitated a slew of composers who were effectively banned from the concert platform - Roslavets, Alkan, Reger, Marx, Henselt, Rzewski, Busoni, Georgy Catoire, among others. Hamelin's press quotes, understandably, stress his monster technique. But his musicianship - demonstrated, for instance, in the beautiful pacing and range of moods in his recording of Rzewski's Variations on The People United Will Never Be Defeated - make him such a brilliant advocate for this neglected repertoire. The fact that Hamelin makes a living at this restores one's faith (somewhat) in the classical music industry.

Eve Egoyan

By Tamara Bernstein

Eve EgoyanToronto-based Eve Egoyan has, in the last few years, emer-ged as one of Canada's most trustworthy and just plain musical specialists of new music. She's selective in her repertoire - earlier this year she confessed to a reporter that she doesn't like modern music that has a clichd "modern" sound. She cares about the overall shape of her programs, and prepares them with uncommon thoroughness, bringing a wide range of pianistic colour and expressivity to whatever she performs. Although recitals of mostly new music are a hard sell, Egoyan's integrity is starting to pay off, with recitals on mainstream series such as Music Toronto and Debut Atlantic. New Music for Piano: The Things In Between (music of Michael Finnissy, Alvin Curran, Michael Longton, Stephen Parkinson and Linda C. Smith) demonstrates her musicianship.

More pianists: texts in French

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