A Steinway Celebration: Robert Silverman & Lafayette String Quartet

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September 24, 2012

September 23, 2012, Philip T. Young Recital Hall at UVic School of Music
Rhapsody in B minor, op. 79 no.1 –Johannes Brahms
Six Piano Pieces, op. 118 –Johannes Brahms
Rhapsody in E-flat major, op. 119 no.4 –Johannes Brahms
Piano Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44
Robert Silverman, piano , with the Lafayette String Quartet

Reviewed by Kelvin Chan

When you realize you should shove aside your daily routine to explore a composer further, you know the performance you’ve just heard has left “a lasting legacy.” Robert Silverman’s magnificent playing at his recent Sunday afternoon concert made me shelve my Mahler symphonies cycle and pull out the late piano works of Brahms for the night.

The program for the first half comprised a selection of works from Brahms’ late period—this is fantasy-like, probing, at times introspective music, and Silverman has an obvious affinity for this kind of expression. He paid meticulous attention to the treatment of both the sustain and una corda pedals, and a lush, burnished approach was apparent by the time of the second theme’s arrival in the Rhapsody in B minor, which he played with highly polished voicing in the treble register (which is notorious among piano majors at the School of Music for being recessed on the old Steinway, the instrument of Mr. Silverman’s choice).

The Six Piano Pieces, op. 118, one of a few cycles of piano works Brahms wrote toward the end of his career, is regarded as among the finest works in the Romantic literature. Being a pianophile, I have heard and studied multiple recordings of these pieces before, but never experienced them in a live setting, where the spontaneity truly adds to the quasi-fantasia nature of the music. Silverman presented the cycle with its strong thematic unity in mind, only briefly pausing between each of the six pieces, and in some cases, such as at the end of the Intermezzo in A minor, carefully linking the first notes of the following piece with the sustain pedal. Throughout the cycle, Silverman exhibited his mastery of tonal control, especially in soft playing: the last note of the serene Intermezzo in A major, for example, was produced with breathtaking softness—yet still with a remarkable degree of firmness, allowing it be projected over the lavish bass he frequently and beautifully conjured. He wrapped up the first half of the concert with a thrilling rendition of the Rhapsody in E-flat major, which allowed him to display his highly-refined tone at a wider dynamic contrast. The results were impressive.

After the interval, UVic’s Lafayette String Quartet joined Silverman on stage. The ensemble work throughout the Schumann Piano Quintet was first-rate. In the Development section of the Allegro brillante, for instance, the string players breathed and swayed freely yet were synchronized at the same time. Silverman provided a sensitive accompaniment throughout, frequently glancing at the violinists for visual cues. The brilliant chemistry in the ensemble was especially evident in the exhilarating Allegro, ma non troppo finale, where rhythmic excitement and structural buildups moved uniformly from first violin to piano to cello. The majestic culmination at the coda drew deservedly loud applause from the audience members, the majority of whom stood in ovation.

Kelvin Chan is a student in the School of Music at UVIC

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