Pan Harmonia has an impressive track record of presenting outstanding performances of diverse chamber repertoire. Their most recent featuring of pianist Kimberly Cann continued this tradition of high-quality artistry at an affordable price to Western North Carolina audiences. As an active educator, President of the Asheville Area Piano Forum, and board member of the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and WCQS, Cann expressed her excitement about reprising her role as a performer on October 13, 2013. Her role as an educator was especially apparent during the Altamont performance, with each musical selection interspersed with engaging and informative descriptions by Cann of each piece she performed. The moderately sized yet enthusiastic audience was highly appreciative of her ability to not only perform the repertoire at a high level of artistry, but also discuss the story behind each piece in a knowledgeable and warmly inviting fashion.

The opening selection, Maurice Ravel’s “Menuet sur le nom d’Haydn”, was performed with a deliberate yet delicate touch, the classically oriented phrases executed with enlightened clarity and the more impressionistic moments reflected upon by Cann with a dreamlike nostalgia. The brief but effective minuet (written by Ravel in 1909 as a tribute to mark the centennial of Haydn’s death), was a superb prelude in a trilogy of French-impressionist works Cann chose for the evening’s performance. The second work, Debussy’s “Gradus ad Parnassum,” was described by Cann as a “satire on finger exercises,” a poke at Czerny’s infamously mundane finger exercises every pianist must endure in order to develop dexterity. Cann certainly embraced the satirical aspect of the composition, notably in the exposition with her brisk yet mechanical rendition of cascading arpeggios. While her chops were impressive, this reviewer felt she rushed through some of the work’s gorgeous sonorities. It was only in the contrasting B theme that Cann took the time to relish in Debussy’s lush harmonies. The third selection in this French trilogy was Debussy’s “L’isle Joyeuse,” which Cann described as a “musical journey.” Cann brilliantly displayed Lydian and pentatonic flourishes with fiery passion, while always making sure to bring out the mysteriously menacing whole-tone theme with a vigilant and haunting sense of independence. It was a joy to watch Cann smile with contagious excitement during the piece’s triumphant conclusion, as she flawlessly struck thunderous chords of symphonic splendor on the keys of the piano.

The first half concluded with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31, in A-Flat, Op. 110, a work that the romantic icon wrote shortly after becoming completely deaf. In a way, this whole sonata represents Beethoven’s transition from his early career into the tragic hero he is best remembered as by modern listeners. The first movement, with its hummable melody and logical, triadic-based accompaniment was played with the intoxicating playfulness of a Mozart piano sonata. This simplicity and clarity, indicative of the Enlightenment which marked Beethoven’s early Bonn period, was perfectly evoked by Cann’s sensitive treatment of the melodic material. The transformation in the development of the first movement and visceral declamatory chords of the second movement were played with contrasting brilliance by Cann, who perfectly captured the composer’s incessant and often bitter desire to defeat his inevitable loss of hearing. Her attention to the extra-musical symbolism transformed the notes she played into a story. By the time Cann began playing the haunting and repetitive G minor chords of the third movement, the audience could truly hear the composer’s tragic descent into the isolation of a silent world. Cann effectively communicated the final transition into the fourth movement, as she transformed the G major chord at the end of the third movement from a dark and despairing sonority of contemplation into the ebullient fugue of the fourth movement, gloriously proclaiming the enduring power of the human spirit. This reviewer heard a very deliberate similarity between this sonata’s transition and the transition between the third and fourth movement of the composer’s Fifth Symphony, where the theme of human triumph is also heroically declared (interestingly enough, both works transform from the parallel minor key in the third movement to the parallel major key in the fourth movement). Cann brilliantly navigated the spitfire countermelodies while stating the joyous and victorious fugue theme with ebullient persistence and impeccable clarity.

Following the intermission, Cann was joined by Mary Luna for a very special performance of Vladimir Horowitz‘s “Polnochnychas.” This haunting work, based on a Russian poem, “The Midnight Hour,” provided a wonderful opportunity for Luna to showcase her incredible vocal dynamic range and intensely hypnotic and beautiful vibrato. Luna’s stage presence was incredible, and both she and Cann flawlessly captured the ethereal character of Horowitz’s composition.

Cann performed the remainder of the second half solo, continuing to focus on the compositions of Horowitz, better known as a concert pianist but whom Cann described as a “slightly frustrated composer in disguise.” A Ballade, representing the height of Horowitz’s compositional prowess, was masterfully performed by Cann, who played the opulent jazz harmonies with a mature lyricism. This Horowitz selection and the Beethoven sonata especially highlighted Cann as a rare artist of the highest caliber. She possesses the unique ability to get to the core of composers’ intentions while achieving one of the most difficult tasks any musician faces – the seamless fusion of intellectual acuity and adventurous lyricism. With Cann, there is a lucid amalgamation of logic and romance in her dynamic playing.

Pan Harmonia’s activities are widespread. For details, see our calendar.