The Adams Foundation of Ventura, California, establishes piano recitals in select smaller communities throughout America. Their biannual concerts at Elon University have presented a wide range of the finest American pianists of the older and younger generation. They have included such artists as the late Ruth Laredo, John and Richard Contiguglia, Ann Schein, Ian Hobson, and Jon Nakamatsu during the series’ eight years of existence. The concerts are held in the beautifully restored and intimate Whitley Auditorium. Another attraction of the series is the rich, stunning sound of Elon’s beautifully restored 1923D Steinway piano. This Spring’s concert soloist was Joseph Kalichstein, a musician long familiar to Piedmont North Carolina music lovers in his chamber music guise with the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Piano Trio.

Kalichstein said his program paid homage to this year’s bicentennial for Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47), and anticipated next year’s dual bicentennials for Frederic Chopin (1810-49) and Robert Schumann (1810-56). Kalichstein preceded each selection of this imaginative and winning recital with germane and succinct introductions.

The most substantial work, the eight fantasies of Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Op.16 opened the program. Kalichstein said the name referred not to the violinist Fritz Kreisler (1875-1962) but a fictional character, the mad musician Johannes Kreisler, who appears in three novels by E. T.A. Hoffman (1776-1822). Schumann, who characterized his split personality as Eusebius and Florestan, readily identified with the dual personalities of eccentric Kreisler. All but one of the eight fantasies are marked “Sehr” (Very), reflecting Schumann’s love of extremes from very loud to very quiet or very slow to very fast. Kreisleriana was dedicated to Chopin. Kalichstein’s refined technique brought out the wide palette of color, dynamics, and tempos within each piece. The pianist seemed to shift effortlessly and instantly from one extreme mood to another. It was amusing to hear and watch Kalichstein carry out Schumann’s directions, “As fast as possible” and “even faster” for the seventh fantasy!

Kalichstein deplored the neglect of the keyboard music of Mendelssohn. His choice of the composer’s Fantasy in F-sharp minor, Op. 28 (1833) was rewarding in every way. The composer called it “Scottish” because it was composed shortly after his visit to Scotland. Kalichstein said Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata had served as a model for Mendelssohn when he composed this gorgeous fantasy. It is in three continuous movements. Kalichstein’s performance was breath-taking.

While Schumann, like Brahms and Liszt, was very generous toward other composers, Chopin was not. Kalichstein said Chopin drew upon Lord Byron’s literary model of “a heroic story” when he created the ballade form for the piano. Kalichstein said Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F, Op. 38 was the only piano work he dedicated to another musician, in this case, responding to Schumann’s dedication of Op. 16 to Chopin. This ballad has the most extreme and wild music, reflecting Chopin’s composing to Schumann’s duality. Kalichstein brought out the crystalline clarity of both the exquisite beauty of the first theme and the stormy violence of the second theme.

Kalichstein chose three selections; No.1 in G, No. 3 in E minor, and No.6 in A, from Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, Op. 62. The pianist said Op. 62 was dedicated to Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-96), and he drew attention to the fanfare opening of No. 3 “Funeral March” which may have inspired Mahler’s trumpet opening to his Fifth Symphony. He also played a modified motif Mendelssohn used as an allusion to Schumann’s two-note representation of Clara. The sixth Song was immediately recognizable as the much abused music for Spring used in cartoons and other films. Kalichstein excelled in bringing out the singing line of these jewels in sound.

Chopin’s Ballade No.  4 in F minor, Op. 52 ended the printed concert program. Wikipedia describes this ballade as “the most musically intense and technically demanding” of the composer’s compositions. Kalichstein’s masterful musicianship and keyboard technique allowed him to hold this piece together with unusual skill. His tone was full and warm and he held musical lines together seamlessly. The clarity of his playing was astounding.

The audience’s heart-felt standing ovation was rewarded with a glowing performance of Chopin’s first Nocturne in E minor. It was the sonic equivalent of starlight reflected through the facets of a diamond. Kalichstein said it had started as a sketch by the sixteen year old composer for his Second Piano Concerto. I look forward for Kalichstein’s next return to our area as a soloist!