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There was a large turnout of music lovers in Christ United Methodist Church for the annual Henry Ingram Memorial Concert. Henry and his wife Lucy were major forces in encouraging the growth of music in Greensboro and for the mentoring of young talent. Mrs. Ingram is still very much an organizer, and Christ Church is the anchor for Music for a Great Space, the chamber music series they founded. It was very apt that pianist James Giles was chosen for this recital since this High Point native was one of those young talents they fostered. He now has a thriving international career and is remembered locally for his 17 years as part of the Eastern Music Festival.
Giles modified the original printed program by dropping the Fantasia in C minor, K.475, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91), Suite Bergamasque by Claude Debussy (1862-1918), and one of three scheduled songs by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1973-1943) with transcriptions by Earl Wild (1915-2010).
Giles instead chose Mozart’s early Sonata in E-flat Major, K.282, as an “appetizer” for the main course to follow. The K.282 is the fourth of the composer’s first five sonatas, composed in Salzburg in 1774. All of Mozart’s early sonatas exhibit a winning simplicity of style. The opening movement of the E-flat Sonata, marked Adagio, seems full of veiled melancholy and is followed by a pair of delicate minuets. It ends with a light and whimsical Allegro briefly disturbed by a tempestuous D minor episode. Giles played the Mozart with a fine sense of style, beautiful phrasing, seamless legato and carefully controlled dynamics. Mozart never provides any cover for the slightest error.
The Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt (1811-86) could be justly compared to the main course of a heavy Victorian meal! It is one of the most challenging works from the Romantic era, and its vast canvas is marked Lento assai-Allegro energico, Andante sostenuto, and Allegro energico.
Like his major orchestral works, Liszt makes extensive use of his basic tool – the constant transformation of theme – used firmly and imaginatively. It opens quietly with the immediate statement of three motives that are subjected to a myriad of transformations in which tsunamis of sound are juxtaposed against exquisite quiet melodic episodes, like the eye of a hurricane between surging passages. Over the course of some 25-30 minutes the work ends as quietly as it began.
If the Mozart displayed Giles’ refined palette, the Liszt found no want in his armory as a virtuoso. This sonata can sound too episodic in the hands of a lesser musician, but Giles clearly calibrated its diverse sections within an overall conception of the piece. Giles delivered the extended stormy forte passages with aplomb while he spun the delicate, hushed sections with all the delicacy they demanded.
In place of the Debussy, much regretted by this Francophile, Giles chose a work with which his career has been closely associated. Richard Goula commissioned Nocturne No. 6, Op. 62, by Lowell Liebermann (b.1961) for Giles’ New York City debut in Alice Tully Hall on November 15, 1998. It is dedicated to the memory of Lynn Hantel, a mutual friend of Giles and the composer, whose unexpected death influenced the unsettling episodes within this dark, brooding piece which is very much within the tradition of “night music” such as can be heard in Bartók and Mahler. Giles said the composer eventually wrote a dozen nocturnes, and many pianists have taken up No. 6. Giles’ performance was very evocative and capably sustained the work’s darkly haunted mood with its fascinating, eerie harmonics and dissonances.
Rachmaninoff and Earl Wild were pianistic virtuosi of the nineteenth century Romantic style and were colleagues. Giles also had the benefit of knowing Wild, who was still able to give significant concerts at the age of 90. (Wild even made a song transcription for Giles but that work was not on this recital.) Wild’s transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Where Beauty Dwells," Op. 21, No. 7, was omitted and the concert instead ended with two lovely transcriptions: “In the Silent Night," Op. 4, No. 3, and “Floods of Spring," Op. 14, No. 11.
Giles made the most of Rachmaninoff’s lush and flowing melodies making a nice dessert for a delightful and satisfyingly eclectic recital. Prolonged and warm applause was rewarded with a winning performance of Wild’s transcription of “Embraceable You” from Girl Crazy by George Gershwin (1898-1937).