Legendary Pianist of the Golden Age
Hong Kong City Hall Concert Hall, Central
Joseph Haydn : Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat major, Hob. XVI/46
Ludwig van Beethoven : Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57: Appassionata
Claude Debussy : Three Etudes
Johannes Brahms : Variations on a theme by Handel, Op. 24
Seymour Lipkin (Piano)
The name Seymour Lipkin may sound fresh to many Hong Kong concertgoers. Indeed, Lipkin is a legendary pianist who has a significant role in the piano history. One may realize his achievement by merely mentioning some of his collaborators: Serge Koussevitzky, Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy, Jascha Heifetz, and William Primose (just to name a few).
On Thursday evening, Mr. Lipkin gave a piano recital in City Hall upon the invitation of Central Conservatory of Music Hong Kong Foundation – whose chairperson Cheng Wai was Mr. Lipkin’s student. Looking pale and frail, Mr. Lipkin walked to the piano with slow and heavy footsteps. But he seemed to have lost nothing of the ability to command his instrument. The opening Haydn Sonata was a natural and pristine reading. The plain-spoken articulation, confined dynamic range, metronomic tempo, and minimal pedaling, all evoked the intonation of a fortepiano – a keyboard instrument at Haydn’s time. This kind of authenticity is a rarity in terms of modern reception.
Naturalness and sincerity are the central qualities of Mr. Lipkin’s playing throughout the evening. The following Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata was also delivered with excessive “classical” taste. While most pianists focus on the fervent passion of this sonata, Mr. Lipkin’s rendition was more inhibited and internal. In the second movement, Mr. Lipkin underlined the long melodic arc and overall architecture instead of refined details, giving this introspective movement an extra sense of simplicity. Like his Haydn, the minimal pedaling lead to a clear and clean pianistic sound, which was in stark contrast to the romanticized tone we usually hear today. But the price he paid was the overstuffed chords and under-wrapped climaxes. However, this suffocation was entirely released at the end of the third movement, with the Presto section being wondrously dazzling and glowing. Although there were some occasional technical flaws in the scurrying scales and arpeggios, Mr. Lipkin’s honest musicianship far outshone these slips.
The second half opened with three of Debussy’s Etudes – nos. 11, 9, and 7. Again, Mr. Lipkin’s account was natural and spontaneous, without any artificiality. But this kind of waterless intonation and crude articulation seemed less effective to Debussy’s music. What was missing was the variegated colors and fluidity of lines. The last etude for chromatic intervals was a little concessive to the technical difficulties, with greater and lesser unevenness and mishaps.
The Brahms’ variations sounded more native to Mr. Lipkins’ musical language. He was very much attuned to the structural cohesion of this lengthy artwork, with every pause and transition carefully calibrated. The Baroque-like ornaments and plain-spoken articulation tellingly exemplified his trademark stylistic authenticity and musical honesty. It was a textbook demonstration of this major pianistic work.
Mr. Lipkin’s responded to the audience’s enthusiastic applause by delivering two popular encores – Chopin’s F-sharp major Nocturne and Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song, the first one with peaceful frame of mind and purified intonation; the second one with innocent, almost childish simplicity.
Danny Kim-Nam Hui