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Virtuosity prevails

Dominion-Chalmers United Church
07/31/2015 -  
Johann Sebastian Bach : Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564: Adagio (transcription, Ferruccio Busoni)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281
Franz Schubert: Six Moments musicaux, D. 780, Op. 94: Moderato in C major, Andantino in A-flat major & Allegro moderato in F minor
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 26 in E-flat major, Op. 81a “Les Adieux”
Franz Liszt: Sonata in B minor

André Laplante (piano)

A. Laplante (© Peter Schaaf)

Once a youthful competition winner, Canadian pianist André Laplante at 65 is a mature virtuoso pianist of world repute. His performance Friday evening for Ottawa’s Chamberfest was a welcome opportunity to hear him in a significant range of repertoire. While I prefer to avoid comparisons with others, especially a much younger performer, I can report that Laplante got a drastically richer and more detailed sonority from the new grand provided by Toronto’s Steinway Gallery than did Pavel Kolesnikov earlier this week.

This however was almost a mixed blessing. Again, it was evident that the acoustics at Dominion-Chalmers Church, which work well for more conventional chamber music, simply don’t work for solo pianists such as Laplante, Angela Hewitt, Janina Fialkowska or Marc-André Hamelin, all of whom have appeared in recital here during the past couple of years. The locale has far too much reverberation and, because it is not primarily a concert venue, it’s unlikely that any retrofit will happen since this imposing Byzantine structure is a century old and probably due for heritage status. If available, Southam Hall at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre is the obvious venue for such performances. Alternatively, there are likely high school auditoriums with preferable acoustics (which, in fact, years ago were used as concert venues).

Laplante has been hailed as a Liszt specialist since his earliest days, and his performance of the Sonata in B minor certainly cemented this reputation, even with an unfortunate memory lapse about ten minutes into the work (he played random chords until deciding where to reboot). He has been compared with Rudolf Serkin, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Vladimir Horowitz, though I’d say any similarity to the first two of these is limited. Laplante does share with Horowitz a very bright and penetrating, though always expressive upper register. But he’s in no way a Horowitz imitator and never indulges in the rubato and other exaggerations associated with the legendary Russian-American virtuoso. Also, Laplante’s playing is less transparent and he uses more pedal than did Horowitz --- too much, perhaps for a venue such as Dominion-Chalmers.

Laplante opened the recital with the Adagio from Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue (by coincidence, a Horowitz warhorse), and at once established the liquid, lyrical quality of sound he likes. He brought much the same sonority and fairly conservative approach to Mozart’s early Sonata in B-flat major, though provided an interesting, delicate humor to the slower second movement. Laplante became more overtly romantic in three selections from Schubert’s moments musicaux. While he might have aimed for greater dynamic contrasts, he played the Moderato in C major with genuine expressiveness. Next, Laplante evoked thoughtful meditation, then alternating contemplation and declamation for the Andantino in A-flat major. The more familiar Allegro moderato in F minor was played as a delicate march.

Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata was extroverted, and full blooded in Laplante’s hands. He brought genuine artistry to the quizzical opening of the second movement, and rich sonorities for the final one, though this was just too big for the venue --- at times there was almost a buzzing, redolent of distortion in old analog recordings at their highest dynamic levels, or an over-amplified rock concert.

The Liszt Sonata was majestic at its best, though again not a work suited to the venue. Sensing what his audience had enjoyed, Laplante played Liszt’s Sonetto del Petrarca No. 47 as an encore.

Charles Pope Jr.



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