The Henderson County Library auditorium hosted an audience of about a hundred for the third concert in a series of four labeled "World Masterwork Series: Preserving the Musical Lineage of Franz Liszt." I also attended the first of these four concerts, hearing the same program. My review cannot help but reflect both hearings.
These concerts, two in Hendersonville and two in Asheville, inaugurate the career of pianist Christopher Tavernier of Hendersonville. They also featured Dr. John Cobb, a well-established concert pianist who teaches in Asheville. Cobb and Tavernier alternated on twelve solo pieces by Franz Liszt in addition to playing two-piano works by Liszt and Rachmaninoff and a two-piano encore by Brahms.
Freeburg Pianos of Hendersonville provided two Perzina pianos, tuned to Equal Beating Victorian Temperament by Keith Freeburg, who also delivered a commentary that explained Liszt's career. Projected images of Liszt, Paganini, and Claudio Arrau (Cobb's teacher) added a visual story. The concert demonstrated the continuity of the romantic tradition through these two pianists who are "musical descendants" of Liszt.
The program began with four of Liszt's extraordinarily difficult Transcendental Etudes. Cobb set the stage with "Preludio." A slightly nervous Tavernier played the explosive "Molto Vivace." Cobb gave an introspective "Paysage," using tasteful agogic accents and emphasizing the lush harmonies of the work. Then Tavernier (no longer nervous) finished the set with the challenging "Mazeppa," in which he clearly enunciated the middle-voice theme while simultaneously keeping the very busy bass and treble lines galloping along at a breakneck pace. His parallel octave passages left nothing to be desired.
Next came two of Liszt's Paganini Etudes: No. 2, played by Cobb and the famous No. 3, in G Sharp minor ("La Campanella"), played by Tavernier, whose long supple fingers formed into a panoply of hand positions in the difficult cross-hand passages as he demonstrated his power without suffering a loss of tonal color.
Tavernier next performed Rachmaninoff"s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Cobb playing the piano reduction of the orchestral accompaniment. In this 25-minute work, as in the preceding Liszt solo works, it became apparent that Tavernier uses his considerable technique in the service of the music. He is unleashing musical thoughts in a relaxed virtuosity.
Two symphonic poems, two song transcriptions, "Consolation No. 3," and Five Authentic Hungarian Folk Songs followed. All too soon, the Liszt solo piano works were completed. The final scheduled work was Liszt's "Reminiscences of Norma by Bellini," an operatic paraphrase for two pianos. Throughout Tavernier's solo work, he had used no body motion save for the occasional shift in his seating on the artist's bench. But in this duo work, he suddenly showed a rhythmic torso, using body language as well as eye contact to communicate with his partner on the second piano. He uses his body for a purpose, not for showmanship. The pair were tightly linked right through to the final contrapuntal measures.
I should add an important fact: Christopher Tavernier is thirteen years old and in seventh grade. John Cobb is his teacher. Despite his youth, Tavernier is already a complete package: technical ability, emotional connection and intellectual comprehension. As he matures, he will add the depth that will allow him to do justice also to more complex composers such as Beethoven. Give him time. For now, rejoice in his performance of lush romantic music. "Mazeppa," "La Campanella," and the Bellini reminiscence – all on the same program at age thirteen? Remarkable!
The set of programs offered this fall is an amazing debut appearance. You will have one more chance to experience it, at the Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville on Saturday, September 28 at 7:00 p.m. This appearance is in a low-priced benefit performance for women's health. If you miss that, you'll have to go to Rocky Mount on October 24, when Christopher Tavernier will perform Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in B Flat minor with the Tar River Philharmonic Orchestra.
Don't miss him. Remember the name: Christopher Tavernier.