Lisiecki a pianist to seek out
 

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posted Friday, February 17, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 07

Lisiecki a pianist to seek out
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Jan Lisiecki
February 8
Meany Hall


'I well remember that evening in 2012 when a 17-year-old blond Adonis strode onto the stage of Meany Hall and swept us off our feet with a digital mastery and a singing poetry that belonged to an older spirit.' That's what I want to say in 2049 when I'm 110 and Jan Lisiecki is a mid-life 54 and is acknowledged as the Rubinstein of his day. I want to remember this concert as a revelation of a great artist.

Just as it is hard to listen to the teenaged Mozart's music and imagine that it came from an adolescent, so it was difficult to believe that Jan Lisiecki is ... oh, to hell with it! Forget that he is 17! Just close your eyes and experience the piano floating in air, flying on the power of song. I have never heard Bach more beautifully sung. His dynamic shadings and the soaring phrases make you realize how boring so-called Bach specialist Angela Hewitt (coming later this season to the President's Piano Series) is in the same music. Lisiecki began both halves of his program with 'Preludes and Fugues' from The Well-Tempered Clavier, as he explained to us, because 'playing Bach will show you my character.' Playing Bach is to be perhaps even more naked than playing Mozart. Lisiecki's character is that of a singer.

Lest his comment sound like self-centeredness, let me say his playing is without affectation and draws little attention to anything other than the music. He plays with a straight back and very little motion of the body except for movement of the head and, of course, hands. His one quirk is the way his hands hover over the keys both before and after his playing. Visit the website for the UW World Series at http://uwworldseries.org/presidents-piano/ to see YouTube videos of him, most of which focus on his youth. This Meany concert showed that he has matured immensely since the videos were taken.

After the first Bach piece, Lisiecki played Beethoven's 'Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp minor,' which was lovely yet I felt was the least notable of the program. He followed this with Liszt's 'Trois études de concert, S. 144.' I urge you to go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=emBVR7vTe6U to see a younger Lisiecki play the third of these gems, 'Un Sospiro.' Here is the pianist as poet, playing with a tenderness and grace that I did not even know existed when I was that age! His mastery at the Meany recital was even greater than in the video, but I'm glad to have the video as a reminder of this 'peak experience.'

Then came the biggest surprise of the evening. I confess to not having ever heard Mendelssohn's 'Variations sérieuses in D Minor.' Lisiecki pointed out Mendelssohn's love of Bach's music, and no piece shows that more than this set of variations. Along with the early octet, this has now become my favorite Mendelssohn work, many of which rather bore me. It is rigorous in a Bachian way and full of interesting, sometimes virtuosic challenges for the piano. Jan Lisiecki showed a powerful connection to this work, leaving us wowed as we filed out for the intermission.

After his second example from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Lisiecki again addressed the audience with a clarity and articulation that any mature speaker could envy. He spoke of the 'flow' throughout the Twelve Études, Op. 25 of Chopin, and of the composer's emphasis on the need to chantez (sing) always in the playing. Certainly this pianist followed that command.

I urge the management of the President's Piano Series to re-engage Lisiecki as often as possible, so that we may witness the further growth of this already supremely musical artist.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.



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