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Concert pianist Vincent Van Gelder took the stage at the Music House, playing from memory Liszt's Liebestraum No. 3 on the excellent house Steinway. His playing was delicious. Equally delicious and powerful was Liszt's version of Schubert's "Aufenthalt." from Schwanengesang.
Van Gelder created a musical diptych in the final two pieces of his program – two major works on either side of the usual Music House wine-and-cheese interval. (As an aside, the broiled bits of sausage wrapped in bacon and the meatballs, prepared by the Kinston Trio, were just spectacular. Thank you!)
The first part of the diptych was Maurice Ravel's hugely demanding suite in three movements, Gaspard de la nuit, based on poetry by Aloysius Bertrand. Each movement could easily have more room devoted to it than this review totals, and yet very little of the depth and complexity of the composition or the execution could be adequately expressed in words. In "Ondine," Van Gelder's hands were first all over each other and then at the extremes of the keyboard and back again. In "Le gibet," distinct from the overwhelming waves of sound was the gloomy continuous tolling of a great bell, not something usual for hanging victims, but contributory to the emotion of the poem. "Scarbo" is the most demanding of these three very demanding pieces; Van Gelder was always completely in control. The effect of Gaspard is the piano as Petri dish and the music as some powerful virus doubling and redoubling until the dish is full and running over. One could spend one's life listening to this and only just start to grasp it; Van Gelder has studied it, grasped it, and mastered it as well!
The second part of the diptych was a diptych in itself – on the one hand, Van Gelder's masterful program piece Guardians of Iceland: Eylin's Journey, and, on the other hand, the thirteen images by his daughter Nathalie which illustrate the thirteen movements.
Van Gelder played with all he had. He was a powerhouse of big chords and had a delicate way with the tiny little melodic clusters as well. He composes with all he's got, as well. The Guardians of Iceland seemed as huge, as demanding, as the Ravel. Van Gelder's memory-driven fingers flew over the keyboard in a seemingly random dance, and yet our ears confirmed over and over that nothing was at random – every note was intentional.
Nathalie's artwork would be remarkable coming from an adult. At thirteen, wow! Her chosen medium, she told me, is: “Digital... Photoshop.” The images were projected onto a screen beside the piano, perhaps a first for the Music House. There are one or two recurring themes which reveal the freshness of the artist: Eylin is stereotyped as a Lego-faced doll with blonde braids. The horses that appear are perfect my-grown-up ponies, with intense color contrasts between swirling mane and glossy coat. But the brooding darkness of the lava-derived landscape, the scorpion-like "Dragon of the East," and the Michelin-man rolls of the "Giant from the South" echo the fantasy world of Icelandic legend.
Her father's music echos and parallels her art with its intensity and demanding quantity of notes.
There were two contrasting encores: first, a piano transcription of the balcony scene from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, and then a bit of the "Lullaby" from the preceding Guardians.
To describe this evening as good playing is a complete understatement; the illustrations by Nathalie were an essential part of the enjoyment.
Note: The pianist also presented a recital at Meredith College on Nov. 8.