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FRIENDS OF MUSIC RECITAL: MAY 10 (article first published : 2005-05-12)

The young American pianist Spencer Myer, who gave this recital at the Durban Jewish Centre, is a virtuoso. More important, he is an artist, a player who uses his impressive technique to reveal the inner beauties of the music.

His choice of programme indicated a refined judgment and taste. He began with Melodie de Gluck, an arrangement by the Italian pianist Giovanni Sgambati of the well-known Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. The opera was written in 1762, the piano arrangement about 150 years later, but it captures successfully the mood of the original. It is not quite as easy to play as it sounds, and Mr Myer gave a performance of exquisite delicacy.

Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 31 No. 2 in D minor brought forth more subtle playing, especially in the recitative passages in the first movement, where judicious pedalling produced the required remote and mysterious effect. The final movement was taken fast but with total accomplishment and control; Mr Myer is a poised and undemonstrative pianist.

Samuel Barber’s Sonata Op 26 brought us with a jolt and a bang into the twentieth century. Composed in 1949 for Vladimir Horowitz, it is a big-four-movement work, brilliant and complex but not inaccessible to those hearing it for the first time. It ends with a four-voice fugue in which the parts were traced with great skill by the pianist.

Also off the beaten track were Schumann’s 18 pieces which he called Davidsbundlertanze, Op 6, dances of the league of David against the philistines. For some inexplicable reason this work is not played very often (although Clara Schumann, the composer’s widow, gave it repeatedly in her long concert career after his death in 1856). It contains some of Schumann’s best music (which means some of the best music ever written for the piano), with most of it assigned to one or other of the two self-characters residing in the composer’s romantic head, the fiery Florestan and the meditative Eusebius. Again, a performance of high quality, especially in some of the more lyrical numbers.

A true virtuoso performance of Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No.1 brought this memorable recital to an end.

The evening’s prelude performers, funded by the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund, were The Contingent Trio from the University of KZN, a jazz group consisting of Leon Scharnick, saxophone (leader), Thuto Motsemme, bass guitar, and Paki Peloeole, drums. Their programme included a work written by the trio themselves and described by the leader, with an apparently straight face, as “composed as a protest against academia and all forms of institutionalised education”. - Michael Green




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