28.Piano in the Spotlight
Keyboard toccatas, around Bach’s time, preserved the free structure, dexterity, and elaborate runs and arpeggios of an earlier toccata style, but often included expansive fugal sections. The Toccata in C minor is an early work, probably composed 1708–1717, that breaks down into three parts: a brilliant prelude in typical toccata style, an adagio built from slowly rising minor scales, and an energetic fugue. The fugue is the main event, interrupted halfway through by the freer figuration of the opening, and ending with one last slow section before the rapid finale.
Alfred Brendel called Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 24 “lyrical and loving and joyous.” Composed in 1809 and dedicated to Countess Therese von Brunswick, the work has several unusual features, including an unconventional two-movement structure, the key of F-sharp major, and the slow introduction to the first movement. This serene opening is only four measures long, but so expressive that it can “conjure up the atmosphere of the entire sonata in our hearts,” according to Hugo Riemann. The second movement is a capricious rondo full of sudden contrasts and pianistic display.
The centrepiece of this recital is Samuel Barber’s 1949 Piano Sonata, an essential work in the virtuoso repertoire and the most popular American work of its kind. Donald Henahan observed in Barber’s obituary that “although he often dealt in pungent dissonances … there was a lyrical quality even to his strictly instrumental pieces that from the first established him as neo-Romantic.” And indeed, through the raucous opening and the strident, even harsh sonorities of the opening Allegro runs an undercurrent of powerful emotion. The happy mood of the second movement, with its dizzying initial theme and abrupt ending, has a slightly manic edge, and the Sonata’s darkest moments occur in the ominous Adagio, outlined by a sinuously chromatic right-hand melody. This movement fades slowly into silence before the exuberant fugue that Poulenc called “fantastically difficult to play.” The immense energy of this brilliant finale culminates in an unrestrained cadenza.
© Ariadne Lih, 2018
A native of Minneapolis, 23-year-old pianist Kenny Broberg won the Silver Medal at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where his performances were praised for “an imaginative shaping of themes, revelation of inner voices, and an unfailing sense of momentum” (Texas Classical Review). Highlights of his 2017–2018 debut season as Cliburn medallist include an invitation to step in for André Watts with the Minnesota Orchestra and a recital tour of Hawaii. In 2018–2019, he appears with the Royal Philharmonic, Kansas City Symphony, and National Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, in addition to recitals and orchestra engagements across the United States. The first musician in his family, Mr. Broberg started piano lessons at age 6, having shown a fascination for the family instrument. He studied for nine years with Dr. Joseph Zins before entering the University of Houston’s Moores School of Music, where he earned a Bachelor of Music degree.
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