ZANKEL HALL | Peter Serkin

Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall
Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 7:30 PM

Peter Serkin, Piano

SCHOENBERG | Three Piano Pieces, Op. 11
DEBUSSY | 6 épigraphes antiques
KURTÁG | Selections from Játékok: Pen Drawing, Valediction to Erzsébet Schaár; (…and round and round it goes…); Portrait; The mind will have its freedom…
WUORINEN | Scherzo
CHOPIN | Polonaise in C Minor, Op. 40, No. 2; Impromptu in A-flat Major, Op. 29; Etude in A-flat Major from Trois nouvelles études; Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2
SCHOENBERG | Suite for Piano, Op. 25

BACH | Prelude & Fugue in B-flat Major from The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I
CHOPIN | Etude in G-flat Major, Op. 25, No. 9, “Butterfly”; Nocturne in F-sharp Major, Op. 15, No. 2

Serkin’s hands were fascinating to watch: the rippling sprawls, the feathery glides, the sniper-like dartings, the instant bounce-backs to midair arrest before the next dives in. Throughout the Debussy there was a magical lightness of touch that never came at the expense of clarity or warmth. These pieces, though only about 15 minutes in all, offered a sense-gallery of tautness and tenderness. Notes grazed, lingered, softly crumbled. Deft pedaling aided with subtle, not sentimental, hazes. These épigraphes were evocative independently, then, as well as effective for their original function: accompanying the recitation of Pierre Louÿs’ fin-de-siècle Sapphic verses, Les Chansons de Bilitis.

The four micro-selections from György Kurtág’s seldom performed series of exercises were charmingly willful (Játékok = “Games”). Particularly memorable for this listener: the brightly skittish, trill-intensive “Portrait.” Wuorinen’s Scherzo, written for Serkin and premiered last year, offered densely intricate, animated textures that upped their stakes (and raised the technical bar) along the way. Rigor and vigor defined the two Schoenberg sets that book-ended the program, in the form of focused intent and (again those) leaping hands.

Encore number one, the Bach, was taken at an unusually rapid pace; partly due to Serkin’s magic, and partly to the aural afterimage of Wuorinen and Schoenberg, perhaps, this prelude-fugue pair became scintillatingly enigmatic. It made me want to hear more Bach from him. To the Chopins—six in all, thanks to generous encores—he brought everything from everything above. In sequence, mere impressions, impressionistic for having been too engrossed to be alert registrar: sober, penetrative intensity, broken by lush quiets; fluid lyricism as well as muscularity; simple, lush blots and dapples; dreamy reverie from which it felt barely possible to recover; featheriest-ness.

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