Orli Shaham brings mixed Brahms-inspired program to Coral Gables

By Dorothy Hindman

Orli Shaham performed a Brahms-inspired program Thursday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church. Photo: Christian Steiner

For the second concert of the Community Arts Program 2013 Summer Series, pianist Orli Shaham charmed the crowd at Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ like a master storyteller.  Shaham, currently recording the late piano works of Johannes Brahms, spoke throughout about her Brahms-inspired program of old favorites that also included a world premiere.

Shaham “started with dessert,” with Frederic Chopin’s Berceuse, Op. 57, a deceptively dangerous work to open with, requiring delicacy and a long, compelling line to hold attention.  Beginning with a soft touch, Shaham quickly dug in with a dynamic palette that was occasionally too aggressive, but which allowed her to take the measure of the overly bright, hammery Bösendorfer piano.

Shaham is currently commissioning living composers for Brahms-inspired works, and Thursday’s concert saw the world premiere of Bruce Adolphe’s Intermezzo. Adolphe, of NPR’s Piano Puzzler fame, has produced a densely post-Romantic work, with lyrical chromatic lines sequentially developed into powerful outbursts.  Subtitled “My Inner Brahms,” deep left-hand notes provided chocolaty richness.

Shaham kicked off the Brahms Six Pieces, Op. 118, with bravura, torrential arpeggios in the Intermezzo in A minor.  The ensuing tender, perennial favorite Intermezzo in A major had perfect pacing and wasn’t overly sentimental.  The fiery return of the middle section suffered from muddiness, but was quickly reined in for the sensitive end.

Noting that Brahms’ Ballade drew its inspiration from the Chopin Ballades, Shaham channeled her inner Brahms for the athletic, jaunty opening, and her inner Chopin for the lyrical contrasting sections. In the Intermezzo in F minor, she skillfully intertwined the contrapuntal lines, exploding with ferocity for the close.

Her bell-like tone for the Romance’s opening chords revealed an excellent ear for inner voices, although the Berceuse-inspired middle section, like Chopin’s earlier, suffered from overly loud passagework and trills dominating the sound.  The final Intermezzo in E-flat minor was best, with controlled opening lines the color of moonlight as they traced their desolate trajectory.  However, the grotesque, muted central dance became overly shrill and glassy before falling back into the more transcendent lines of the ending.

For Modest Mussorgsky’s beloved Pictures at an Exhibition, new, brightly colored paintings by Manuel Diaz were projected above the piano, in a case of “art speaking to art speaking to art,” said Shaham. The pianist spun each movement engagingly, while the taxing piano sometimes added and sometimes detracted from her efforts.  In the recurrent “Promenade” that interweaves the character pieces, Shaham’s voicing had a grand, pealing effect. The sinister melodies of “Gnomus” were clear, but details of the low chromatic riffs were completely lost in the murk.

Shaham captured the moody Russian melodies of “The Old Castle”; the pounding, thunderous tenor melody of “Bydlo”; and her “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” shimmered, benefitting from the piano’s extreme resonance.  Virtuosic turns in the playful staccatissimo lines of “The Marketplace at Limoges” and its darker counterpart “The Hut on Fowl’s Legs” showed Shaham’s technical depth.  Lastly, “The Great Gates of Kiev” was a bang-fest, with a muddy, ringing ending that approached rock-concert decibels.

Guitarist Pepe Romero performs for the Community Arts Program at Coral Gable Congregational Church July 11. communityartsprogram.org/concert-tickets/

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Fri Jun 28, 2013
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