Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Henry Kramer plays Schumann with the Pacifica Quartet, also making Spanish connection through Scarlatti, Albeniz, and Ravel

Henry Kramer doesn't fuss around the edges of the music.
The sounds of celebration that animate the twin climaxes of Isaac Albeniz's "Fete-dieu a Seville (Corpus Christi in Seville)" sure sounded wonderful in the lofty acoustical space of Christ Church Cathedral in Tuesday's noontime recital.

The partnership of milieu and musician reached its height there, in
one of the solo pieces American Pianists Association's Classical Awards finalist Henry Kramer performed. In addition to its evocation of church bells, the character piece from Book 1 of "Iberia" also has a section of reverent contrast that brought out the directness and sensitivity of the finalist's lyrical side.

The lyricism, and the ability Kramer showed in modulating it to carry out its expressive function best, was also evident in a companion piece from Albeniz's "Iberia," the haunting "Evocacion (Evocation)". When the initial well-knit melody made a floating return appearance, the effect was magical.

The Spanish side of composers not native to the country was displayed in Ravel's "Alborada del gracioso" from "Miroirs" and in Scarlatti's Sonata in D major, K. 96. The latter work, opening with a fanfare motif, received a crisply articulated performance, with wistful touches in a secondary theme and brief detours into the minor mode as it went along. All of this concise variety was laid out without fussiness, exactly how the concise binary sonatas of this expat from Italy should sound.

The Ravel character piece (whose title translates as "Morning Song of the Jester") confirmed my impression that Kramer characteristically is keenly engaged in his repertoire without affectation. This quality made the plaintive episode in the middle particularly effective.

Similarly, a pianist with this degree of straight-from-the-shoulder playing can make more of the big climaxes in ensemble work, because the excitement seems earned, not slapped on. That came to the fore in Kramer's playing with the Pacifica Quartet of Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44. The torrential sweep of the conclusions to the first and fourth movements, and the energetic coda of the third (Scherzo: Molto vivace), were thoroughly satisfying. True, there was a rough launch of the fugato episode the first time around in the finale, but all that was fixed with the five musicians' full statement of the same material near the end.

All the finalists this week benefit from collaboration with the superb Pacifica Quartet, now quartet-in-residence at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. As on their excellent recordings for Cedille, in concert the Pacifica offers pinpoint coordination and evinces an energy and warmth that glows. To cite just one example from its work Tuesday, the viola melodies that make the slow march of the Schumann second movement so heart-tugging were memorably performed by Masumi Per Rostad. Other members of the Pacifica are violinists Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardsson and cellist Brandon Vamos. Their contributions to these free noontime concerts are among the glories of Discovery Week, and should not be missed.