Pianist Gerstein displays vivid character in dance-inspired program

By Dorothy Hindman

Kirill Gerstein performed a wide-ranging recital Sunday afternoon at Gusman Concert Hall.

A bevy of colorful characters danced their way through a Sunday Afternoons of Music program by pianist Kirill Gerstein at Maurice Gusman Concert Hall.

Coming to the U.S. from Russia to study jazz at 14, Gerstein was the youngest student ever to attend Berklee School of Music in Boston.  He ultimately decided his passion was classical music, and at age 33, has won both the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and the prestigious Gilmore Artist Award.  His program Sunday, united by a dance theme, showed off his ability to portray characters and tell stories through music.

Opening with Bach’s English Suite No. 6 in D minor, Gerstein delivered a rich legato tone in the stormy, Prelude, which carried over into the demanding Allegretto, opening up occasionally to let in some light.  His expressive Allemande continued the mood more delicately, although some missed ornaments detracted from the performance.  A Courante in a similar tempo could have used a bit more contrast and definition from the previous two works.  The best moments came in the Sarabande and Double, in which Gerstein’s slow, controlled tempo and subtle voicing of the Double’s ornamented line never overpowered the original structure of the Sarabande. His Gigue, although played with conviction, had tempo issues in the more technically demanding passages.

The polyphony kept coming with Ferrucio Busoni’s Gigue, Bolero and Variations (Study After Mozart), a pastiche of several works by Mozart, plus some added notes by Busoni in the variations.  Gerstein’s control of the driving, syncopated lines made for an exciting reading.

Ophelia’s Last Dance by British composer Oliver Knussen was commissioned specifically for Gerstein, who premiered it in 2010.  It was surprising to see Gerstein use his iPad to read the score, although the audience seemed charmed by the use of technology.  Gerstein claimed that for him, the work has a “melancholic mood of late Brahms intermezzi.” It also has a distinctly impressionistic opening of bells and sweeping whole-tone scales.  This idea continuously interrupts a Romantic, jazzy waltz, capturing Ophelia’s gauzy instability.  While not a modern masterpiece, the work is a pleasant addition to the repertoire, and Gerstein effectively interpreted the contrasting styles.

Gerstein’s real ability began to show with Carl Maria von Weber’s Invitation to the Dance, delineating the male and female characters through register, touch, dynamics and color.  His clean, confident performance showed flash during the passionate waltz passages.

The finest performance came in Schumann’s Carnaval, a set of character pieces on various stock characters of the Italian Renaissance, as well as Schumann’s friends, loves, and alter egos.  Gerstein’s polished performance flowed from one piece into the next, creating the colorful jumble of a carnival crowd.

Channeling the Romantic spirit, Gerstein played with engaging, fiery passion.  Among the highlights were his delicate, undulating melody and shimmering octaves in “Eusebius,” his flirtatious and playful “Coquette,” and his floating arpeggios under the yearning melody in “Estrella,” written for Schumann’s paramour.  Gerstein’s joyous, fleet-fingered, fully Romantic  take on the closing “Davidsbündler” dance, ounded offa  vivid and engaging performance.

An encore of variations on Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm was equally impressive, colorful and virtuosic.  One wishes Gerstein had let loose just a little sooner in the afternoon.

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Mon Mar 26, 2012
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