Saturday, April 13, 2013

Review of Timothy Smith - Piano Festival Presents

The first selection of music was a series of eight movements called Silam Inua (Sky Spirit) composed by Alaskan composer Craig Coray.  It was meant to reflect Eskimo folk music.  Honestly, when Dr. Timothy Smith first began playing, I thought he was either warming up or tuning the piano.  None of these pieces had any rhythm, at least as far as I could tell.  The melody was a completely random arrangement of notes, most of which clashed tonally with each other.  I had a hard time following the music because of this at first.  Previous to this recital, my mind didn't really consider random sounds to be music.  However, I began to adjust to this style  round the fourth movement, Rhythmic Breathing, and then was able to hear three distinct, though rhythmless, melodies.  At this point I found it fascinating that a musician could play three different disjunct melodies on a piano with only two hands, and on top of it there wasn't even a detectable solid beat to keep everything held together.  I found Silam Inua to be the most interesting and my favorite music of the evening.  Also, all of these movements had a dark and somewhat intriguing feel to them, making for a strange and enlightening musical experience.
Sonata in A-flat major, Opus 110 by Beethoven was a much easier work for my mind to comprehend.  The piano was bright, fast paced, and quite enjoyable.  The progression of this music was much easier to follow than Silam Inua, and as a result held my attention more easily.  After these movements were through, I was left feeling light and energetic.
The first two pieces by Franz Liszt seemed really to be one, melting right into each other.  I noticed very little difference between the two.  The style of these two pieces was very similar to Silam Inua, however, it was played at a more rapid tempo and the music was much more complex.  There were a few measures in which Dr. Smith played exceptionally fast; much faster than I was aware a piano could be played.
The last two pieces by Liszt were played with progressively increasing tempos over the duration of the movements.  There would be a measure or two of slower melody, then Dr. Smith would feverishly pick up the tempo and expand upon it.  What were short bursts of machine-gun speed playing in the first two Liszt pieces became normal tempo of the main melodies in Vallee d'Obermann and Mephisto Waltz No. 1.  The finale of Mephisto Waltz No. 1 was an incredible display of Dr. Smith's musical talent and played faster than any piano I had ever heard.  He played an encore, which I believe was also by Liszt, and I found it almost as impressive as Mephisto Waltz No. 1.  All of the Liszt pieces sounded rich and full of feeling, though I did not find them as intriguing as Silam Inua.  Overall, I very much appreciated the style, as well as the performer's ability to play the music with such mastery.
This recital was not at all what I expected it to be.  First of all, it was a pleasant surprise to find such a talented musician giving the performance.  I was planning on observing a couple of student performers ungracefully stumble through their first recital of the year.  Also, all of the music I listen to is in the style of pop or rock, which is very rigid in its structure.  None of the selections played by Timothy Smith had this form.  The music unfolded itself in a very artistic and energetically free-flowing way.  After getting used to it, particularly after being shocked into it by Silam Inua, I found the recital pleasurable and much more challenging, though interesting, to follow than the music I normally listen to.  It was definitely a different kind of listening experience.

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