Sir András Schiff Selects...
Buttenwieser Hall at 92nd Street Y
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fantasia in C-minor, K. 475
Leos Janácek: Sonata 1.X.1905 (From the Street...)
Robert Schumann: Waldszenen, op. 82
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata No. 28 in A-Major, op. 101
Mishka Rushdie Momen (Piano)
M. Rushdie Momen
For most of the piano buffs In New York the place to be on the evening of Dec.7th was Carnegie Hall, where the Russian piano star Daniil Trifonov performed a sold-out recital. Yet those of us who the same evening attended the New York debut of the young British pianist Mishka Rushdie Momen should not have suffered for skipping Ms. Rushdie Momen’s more famous Russian colleague.
Hers was the first of the three piano recitals in the series now curated annually by Sir András Schiff. For the past three years Sir András has been mentoring a few of the most talented musicians who come into contact with him during master classes he conducts mostly in Europe. Subsequently the lucky ones are given a chance to perform both in Europe and in the United States. Since last year the intimate Buttenweiser Hall at the 92 Street Y has been the New York venue for those recitals.
Sir András is known not to be swayed just by the flashy virtuosity often displayed by so called “competition-winners” and he carefully chooses his candidates in an attempt to present only those who are able to communicate their deeply felt musical ideas. For three years we have heard in New York some sensational young artists already fully developed as musicians, and some who are on their way to becoming such performers. Judging from Ms. Rushdie Momen’s recital it seems that she is on track to join the top ranks of up-and-coming pianists. At this point she already claims sizeable accomplishments and a career as a winner of several important competitions. Among her musical influences other than Sir András Schiff, she lists only an American pianist, Richard Goode.
The format of the recitals presented under the aegis of Sir András follows a somewhat uncommon regulation: pianists are expected to play an uninterrupted 70- to 80-minute program that includes some of the masterpieces of the piano repertory. The young pianist we heard Wednesday evening offset the popular works of Mozart and Beethoven with less ubiquitous selections by Janácek and Schumann.
According to her program notes, Ms. Rushdie Monen viewed this recital as a traversal “from darkness and tragedy to the triumph of the human spirit”. One always has to admire young artists who see beyond music and try to find some outer meaning in the works they perform. Ms. Rushdie Momen’s comments were definitely of a very personal nature; some of her observations, such as those referring to the Janácek Sonata, reflected the analytical mind of the performer. Throughout the evening this fine young British pianist demonstrated a very solid technique, a clear touch and articulation, an understanding of different styles, and an ability to convey her musical ideas. Generally there was a rather chaste quality in her approach to music but one could hardly fault her taste and intelligence.
Her rendition of the Mozart Fantasia underplayed its tragedy per se (as the pianist mentions in her notes) but provided just enough drama, as epitomized in the dark key of C-minor, a key that in Mozart’s case allowed for the creation of some of his most dramatic works (Sonata K.457, which often follows this Fantasia, the most famous of the piano concertos, the Great Mass or the Wind Serenade). In listening to this Fantasia I always wonder if the work was known to Beethoven, whose own motifs in the Appassionata Sonata and the Piano Concerto in C-minor seem to be taken from the composer he idolized.
A much more real tragedy is contained in the Janácek Sonata, originally titled “From the Street”. This work expressed the composer’s reaction to the brutal quelling of a student protest and dealt with the actual tragic event. There is raw emotion and pain in this music, palpable even without an understanding of the nature of fractured speech-rhythms. I have always believed that only a great deal of imagination can bring forth the sobbing, inconsolable pain and anguish heard and probably imagined by the composer. One also wonders what the third movement of this sonata would sound like if in a fit of rage Janácek hadn’t destroyed it by throwing the score in the stove. Ms. Rushdie Momen played the difficult music with feeling, but perhaps the sense of passion was just a little too controlled.
Schumann’s Waldszenen received an unblemished, well-controlled performance. The last three of the nine movements were the most appealing to me for their purity and lack of affectation. In the final “Abschied” (Farewell), Schumann comes closest to Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words and there, perhaps, one would wish for a little more vocal quality of sound.
The last work on the program was a consummate performance of one of Beethoven last Sonatas, his op. 101. Ms. Rushdie Momen rightly sees in the first movement the hesitancy and unanswered questions that follow one another. Here the first two movements feel as if they came from Schumann’s pen. The stop-and-go sense of inquiring in the opening Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung(simply translated as Allegretto ma non troppo) and the vivacious Vivace alla Marcia are probably the most Schumannesque movements in any of the Beethoven Sonatas. In the last movement, similar to the op. 102 Sonata with cello and the mighty Piano Sonata op. 106, there is an omnipresent contrapuntal treatment of material. Our young pianist’s reading was a model of clarity in its fugal development. One could again wish for a bit more heft, more weight in the sound, but at the same time one was also astonished by how much power came from this slightly built pianist with surprisingly tiny hands.
There was only one encore but it was a significant one: Chopin’s Ballade No. 2 in F-Major. Here again one admired Ms. Rushdie Momen’s intelligence and ear: rarely have the left hand harmonies and bass lines been illuminated as clearly – especially in the coda – as our performer demonstrated with equally rare restraint. I was impressed to hear how she was able to hold back even in the stormy passages where the seldom heard details emerged. That last work showed our soloist at her most passionate and engaged. An impressive debut. We will continue to observe with interest how this British pianist progresses, hopefully on both sides of the Atlantic. For those intrigued by her rather famous last name: yes, it is the same as the great writer who was that very evening applauding his niece in enthusiastic unison with the audience.