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In addition to presenting some of the finest established chamber music groups such as the Beaux Arts Trio, the Borromeo and the St. Lawrence String Quartets, and the Spoleto Festival USA Chamber Music Tour, the Classical Concert Series of Pinehurst always offers a couple of promising newcomers as soloists or in duos. On October 13, it opened its 2003-4 season in Owens Auditorium on the lovely Sandhills Community College campus with Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen. In addition to having won first prize in the 2000 Young Artists International Auditions, he was also the recipient of four special prizes: the Bruce Hungerford Memorial Prize, the Joseph Kalichstein Piano Prize, the Maurice M. Clairmont Piano Prize, and the Pennsylvania Presenters' Prize, which gave him a thirteen-concert tour of that state. These are just highlights of his resume. Beginning in 2004, he will serve as Artistic Director of Finland's Lemi-Lappeenranta Music Festival. Eschewing the implication of showy virtuosity that such a litany of prizes might imply, Jumppanen served up an ambitious program of established serious and flamboyant masterpieces leavened with a too-little-known gem and a tough nut to crack from the avant-garde of 1946.
The performance of the opening work, Beethoven's Sonata in C, Op. 53 ("Waldstein"), had many individual touches. Compared to performances by Brendel, Frank, Goode, and Kempff, Jumppanen's fast tempos seemed a little faster - perhaps a reflection of the Early Music Movement - while the slow tempos seemed a little slower than those usually encountered. He was however able to make the listener accept his approach, and the Adagio molto was particularly distinctive. It will be interesting to hear how his view of this work changes over time.
There was no lack of technical facility or flare in Jumppanen's fiery and passionate realization of Liszt's monumental Sonata in B Minor. His tempos and phrasing were convincing, and the work's overall structure very well organized. The Steinway seemed reluctant to produce a really deep and rich bass sound such as that conjured up at a concert in Duke's Baldwin Auditorium by a wizard of the old school, Luiz Carlos de Moura Castro. This seemed the fault of the instrument because the pianist was really digging into the bass end of the keyboard.
Judging by intermission and post-concert comments, the Pinehurst audience got more than it expected or wanted from the enfant terrible period of Pierre Boulez. The 21-year-old composer wrote his First Piano Sonata in 1946. It consists of two contrasting movements, Lente and Assez large, and lasts slightly less than eleven minutes. Jumpannen frequently programs contemporary works and is currently recording all of the Boulez Piano Sonatas for release on the Deutsche Grammophon label in 2005. The first movement came across as just so many random pitches - precisely the sort of thing the rare classical music comedian would use to elicit chuckles. The Pinehurst audience was not amused, and one overheard restless natives. I found the second movement more interesting. The program notes state that "Boulez possessed a charisma that overpowered most people and (that) his First Piano Sonata contains comparable charm and integrity." Unless the author used "charm" in the sense of the name of one of the subatomic particles, I failed to get it, despite Jumpannen's best efforts.
The selection of a rare piano work by fellow Finn, Jean Sibelius, was a complete delight and welcome discovery. The three Sonatinas, Op. 67 were "written in 1912, a year after the Fourth Symphony," and are described by Robert Layton in Sibelius as "probably (the composer's) most convincing keyboard music..., compact in design and economical in utterance." The Sonatina in B-flat minor "employs related thematic material in all three movements"; Layton describes "the melody itself (as having) vague overtones of Rimsky-Korsakov." It was in complete contrast to the sublime austerity of the Fourth Symphony, possessing a surprising warmth and melody. For greater CD sales, Jumppanen ought to bring out a recital that features all three sonatinas of Op. 67.