Music at Meyer: World-Renowned Pianist Daniel Pollack in Recital
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The last date listed for Pianist Daniel Pollack was Monday January 9, 2012 / 7:30pm.
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Reviews & Ratings
Featured review from D. Ch'an-Moriwaki
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What Spoke Loudest Was The Quietude
It wasn’t only the glowing advance notices piquing curiosity that led me to pianist Daniel Pollack’s recital. Appeal was also grounded in a good program with tempting popular draw, Liszt and Chopin for fans of 19th-century Romanticism, Scriabin and Debussy for Modernism’s lovers. The program even offered Bach, for the ‘earlier-music’ types. Although it regularly showcases the new talents from the San Francisco Opera Center Adler Fellowship, Temple Emanu-El as a music venue was, for me, a new experience which had demanded casing out. And I found that its Martin Meyer Sanctuary is a hall with a very good acoustic, a quite decent concert Steinway, and very comfortable, body-supporting pew seating that’s easy to sit into and get up from.
A series now in its ninth season at this beautiful landmark, Music At Meyer, as I learned from looking over its offerings from past seasons, is a chamber concert-series that presents important performers from across all genres, and the evening’s Daniel Pollack recital was the season opener. A warm, casually gracious host welcomed me with an easy grace. Said his name was Mike Tekulsky. Turned out he produces this concert series, Tekulsky Productions. How wonderful is that? Well, here is an artistically excellent, worthy complement to the multi-genre Old First, JCC, and YBCA. Music At Meyer is an ascendant hot spot for the performing arts ... and it’s just close enough to be this side of the avenues and the Richmond's fog belt. Not much going on directly near, but lively Clement Street and Geary Boulevard are only a couple of blocks nearby.
Mr. Pollack launched into his program with the Bach-Siloti Organ Prelude in G minor. When I was a young music student, Alexander Siloti was among the fabled names of the music world, and among pianists, was known for his Bach transcriptions. Despite Siloti’s Bach transcriptions being works of the Romantic period, I was compelled to adjust my sensibilities to a higher threshold for accommodating Mr. Pollack’s luxuriantly well-upholstered prelude section. For with the very first notes in the very first bar, his pianism clearly came through, a personal style of high-decibel, percussive power and lush damper-pedal sound. But then, I thought: Well, it was originally for organ, and maybe that’s what Siloti’s transcription was emulating, so Pollack plays it that way, like a big, whomping organ . . . ... . Relieved that the fugal section was adequately and appropriately dryer, it turned out to be a delightful display of broad and sharp contrasts in dynamics, voice, and color, handled by deft variations in Pollack’s touch.
Next up, the Chopin Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Opus 58, was a difficult traversal in several respects. Firstly, in large forms and compositional formalisms, Frédéric Chopin was not the adept he was with the smaller, free-form works that are his quintessential hallmark. That said, the evening’s anchor piece sprawled from insufficient architectural definition, primarily due to the lack of shaping which comes with subtleties of line, arching, phrasing, inflection, and pedaling with restraint. Mr. Pollack’s deep pedaling and the sheer volume level and flat dynamic range resulted in thick textures that considerably muddled much of the music, robbing it of clarity. It was a torrential, solid wall of sound. Frequent lifting of the foot could have gone such a long way in clarifying the dense textures, turgid sonorities, and general heaviness, especially in the deep bass register. It was in the quiet sections that Pollack shone as a pianist. Here, one actually hears the musicality and artistry his PR notices declare. Notwithstanding all that detracts, however, the Finale of the B minor Sonata, being a familiar, often stand-alone piece, was gratifying to hear in the total context of the complete work. Just that alone made this unfortunately clangorous Chopin worth the labored listen.
With great relief, then, Mr. Pollack finished off the first half of the program with one of the Liszt Consolations (the D-flat Major), and a Hungarian Rhapsody (No. 6). The Consolation was simply lovely, and not least because it was gratefully quiet after all the pounding in the Chopin. Playing the Consolation in D-flat with curvilinear phrasing and arching linear dynamics showed Pollack as a pianist with a sensitive musicality and musical intelligence --- especially expressed to advantage in the Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody, making sensible and coherent this wild work of vivid contrasts. More Liszt followed intermission, Funerailles from the 10 Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses (No. 7), composed in the period when Franz Liszt turned inward and his ‘avant’ artistic vision became inspired, here and there particularly expressed in his subtle harmonics and the deeper meaning within his works. Ever crescendo’ing its sonorities, this piece could be difficult to gauge dynamically, the Martin Meyer Sanctuary being a bit on the live side acoustically. Clangor and heavy pedaling detracted from the emotional sensitivity and diminished the inner passion Liszt wrote into the cycle.
In the second half of the concert, with the anchor work of the Chopin Sonata having failed its mark, the real jewels of the evening turned out to be the Debussy Reflets dans l’eau (the first movement of Book 1 of Images), and Feux d’artifice from Book 2 of the Preludes. Reflets dans l’eau shimmered cooly with transcendent liquid light, a delicate flowing and refinement that gave us the supple rubato and cantabile phrasing that was so entirely missing in the Chopin. Feux d’artifice fiercely sparked and blazed in leaping spikes and shafts of heat and flame. In these Debussy pieces, pianistic artistry in the shading and layering of dynamics and voices, requiring exquisitely fine judgment and finesse of touch, were at last allowed full execution and expression. Listening to Mr. Pollack’s Debussy was a revelation which, despite his pedal’s diminishing of the pieces’ ideal transparency and clarity, nonetheless uplifted the evening’s trajectory.
Interestingly, it was the French idiom of Claude Debussy and the Russian pianism in Alexander Scriabin that seemed to really be Mr. Pollack’s strong suit of the evening, not Chopin and Liszt, the arch-Romantics. Scriabin’s Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone, (No. 2 from Opus 9), and the D# minor Etude No. 12, Opus 8 (a puppy-love favorite from my early days) concluded the program. These are pieces from Scriabin’s earlier, more strongly Romantic period. Once again, the absence of cantabile line in voicing and phrasing diminished the limpid possibility of the Nocturne, while the sonorities in the dense-textured Etude lacked resonance and dimension.
When the keys are held down into the keybed after the notes are struck (the notion that doing this sustains the sound), the piano’s hammers cannot freely bounce completely down, away from the strings. The suspended hammers, still very close to the strings, are thus an impedance within the wave field of the vibrating strings, and the resulting interference pattern in their frequencies disallows roundly resonant sonorities, obstructs the free flow of sound waves, and results in harsh, clangy tones and flat colors.
Conversely, lifting off or bouncing up from the keys after striking the notes allows the hammers to bounce back down fully. Since the piano’s keys now are not being held down, use of the damper pedal is appropriate here, to sustain the sound. And throwing all one’s weight into fortissimo, which coincides with holding down the keys, uses up a lot of valuable energy and stamina needlessly. The fast downward speed of the hands and fingers into the keys is what creates fortissimo, and immediately bouncing off the keys, like a coiled spring, allows the full reverberation of the strings because the hammers are allowed to fully bounce away and clear the wave field.
Similar concept with pedaling. These physics of the instrument and physics of the human body combine to create sublime sonority, with little effort for optimal effects. And the physics has everything to do with the way a pianist sounds. But maybe such knowledge is only crucial for 100-pound weaklings who must tame and master those monster 9-foot concert grands . . . ... .
The evening finished off with an encore, Mr. Pollack enchanting us all with the gorgeous, posthumous Chopin Nocturne in C# minor, alternately known as the “Lento con gran espressione.” This is the beautiful and wistful Chopin nocturne that contains a reminiscence of his F minor Concerto (the second of the two). Again, a quiet piece, where, again, Mr. Pollack’s true musicality shone forth in the loveliest of Chopin’s Nocturnes, to conclude what was a very touching evening . . .
. . . for in the audience were many of the faces of Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, elder persons who suffered much, yet were sustained by music, and the art of music. Many were bent, some were frail, but all were aglow with happiness for the privilege of sharing and enjoying the treasure of live performance by major artists. Several bore bouquets to the stage for Mr. Pollack, careful of step and gingerly of stride. There were also many young people in the audience, thirtysomethings on down. Several of the very young among them were music students from the Conservatory. I left Temple Emanu-El and headed for the bus stop a block away, musing on how I was one of only two persons waiting there for MUNI. But wait! All of five minutes and one block later, the rest of these kindly and gentle souls, who understood the deep meaning of gratitude, and who didn’t have cars, had caught up to the bus stop with me. And in a mere two minutes more, along came the bus. Happy that it was such a quick wait, everyone with cheerful difficulty pulled themselves up the steep bus steps . . . ... .. :::
Quotes & Highlights
- Visit the artist's website.
A return engagement by this phenomenal pianist, a legend in Russia and recently featured in the New York Times, known for his “sheer finesse, his innate bravura and suavity of transition.” (Audiophile)
His prodigious energy and sheer torrents of sound make this season opener an event not to be missed!
Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Consolation in D flat Major
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6
Funerailles from Harmonies Poétiques et Religieuses No.7
Reflets dans l’eau (Images Book 1)
Feux d’artifice (Preludes Book 2)
Nocturne for the Left Hand Alone Op. 9 #2 Etude in D # minor, Op. 8 #12
About the Ticket Supplier: Music at Meyer
Music at Meyer is now established as one of the premier concert series in the Bay Area. It is a chance to start the week off right with beautiful music in a perfect setting - the Martin Meyer Sanctuary at Temple Emanu-El.
Music at Meyer showcases the most talented, visionary musicians across genres in the intimate, acoustically superb setting of Congregation Emanu-El's 375-seat Martin Meyer Auditorium.