Frost Chopin Festival opens with rewarding Beethoven

By Lawrence Budmen

Edward Auer performed at the Frost Chopin Academy and Festival Wednesday night.

The music of Fredric Chopin is repertoire heaven for pianists and the Polish master’s intimate miniatures and large-scale works allow players to display both their technical command and interpretive powers. 

This year’s Frost Chopin Academy and Festival, presented by the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music and the Miami-based Chopin Foundation of the United States, is totally virtual due to Covid concerns. But even online, the week-long event allows students and listeners to share multiple viewpoints on these keyboard masterpieces  from distinguished artists and pedagogues.

On Wednesday night, the festival’s concert series commenced with a recital by Edward Auer. Auer is a faculty member at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. He won fifth prize at Warsaw’s International Chopin Competition in 1965, the first American to receive an accolade at that prestigious event and also placed in the finals of the Tchaikovsky and Queen Elizabeth competitions. His teachers include Rosina Lhévinne and Julius Katchen.

Nearing eighty, Auer’s technique remains strong and intact. His musical approach is less emotive than many contemporary players. That yielded interesting results in the Chopin pieces but Auer’s traversal of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110, the seventy-five-minute program’s initial offering, was his most rewarding performance.

Beethoven’s penultimate sonata is one of the monuments of the keyboard literature. Auer presented an old school vision of the work in the Serkin-Arrau manner,  sober in the best sense of the word. The opening Molto cantabile was spun with a winning sense of flow and line. Auer’s measured pace in the second movement Allegro molto allowed for wide contrasts of tone and dynamics. He persuasively conveyed the sense of mystery in the Adagio ma non troppo that launches the third movement, his phrasing eloquent and expertly contoured. Every note of the double fugue in the Allegro ma non troppo was given precise weight and clarity. Auer gradually built the climactic pages, the final fireworks cumulative of the work’s wider span.

Auer brought the same gravitas to his Chopin readings with more mixed results. The moody Etude No. 1 in F minor from Trois nouvelles études, was played straightforwardly, bereft of overt sweeteners. There was much elegance and drama in the Barcarolle in F-sharp minor but the music’s swaying pulse would have benefited from a lighter touch. 

Among Auer’s three Mazurkas, Op. 30, no. 3 in A-flat Major emerged best. Stately rather than bold or brash, Auer conjured up the spirit of the ballroom and the dance. His softly gauged version of Op. 63, no. 2 in F minor was effectively conceived. While the steady pulse and lack of exaggerated drama in the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17, No. 14 were welcome, the music’s melancholy aura was underplayed. Auer engendered real momentum and forward motion with a slightly faster tempo in a freshly conceived Prelude No. 15 in B-flat Major while giving the central episode the necessary darker touch and coloration.

The opening chords of the Polonaise-Fantaisie were appropriately stern, the softer patterns that followed wonderfully dreamy and airy. Auer’s rhythmic impetus and shading had an almost improvisatory quality. Rather than play the score as a flashy competition pyrotechnical cascade, Auer’s reading marked this unique opus as one of Chopin’s most imaginative creations.

The Frost Chopin Festival presents pianist Margarita Shevchenko streaming at 7 p.m. Thursday, Her program includes Chopin’s Impromptu in F-sharp Major and Scherzos Nos. 3 and 4 and Granados’ “El Fandango de Candil” and “Los Requiebros” from Goyescas. bit.lyMargaritaShevchenko

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Thu Jul 8, 2021
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