Paul Stewart displayed his splendidly lyrical reading technique. "Carnaval" is one of Schumann's most typical and popular piano works. His contemporary musical circle would have enjoyed the "in-jokes" and allusions:
Like a migratory bird, Canadian pianist Paul Stewart is a frequent and welcome visitor to India's musical shores. To commemorate the 200th anniversary of Schumann's birth, the International Music & Arts Society & the Forum for Teachers of Western Classical Music organised an all-Schumann concert at Alliance Francaise. The programme had delightful variety, showcasing this composer's Romantic reputation.
“Carnaval” is one of Schumann's most typical and popular piano works. His contemporary musical circle would have enjoyed the “in-jokes” and allusions: the piece is a parade of imaginary characters, often taken to represent different aspects of the composer's own character; he begins nearly every section with a musical cryptogram. “Arabesque” is beloved of virtuoso as well as amateur players, with its charming buoyancy that develops into a reflective wistful episode. “Nachtstücke” is, not surprisingly, less known with its sombre, quite severe quality.
The bonus was the inclusion of another composer: the evening began and ended with Liszt's transcriptions of two Schumann lieder. Anyone familiar with Liszt's operatic transcriptions knows how he can float a vocal line on tempestuous undercurrents and swells of embellishments and flourishes; yet the melody is never drowned in the tsunami of subsidiary notes. Though Liszt restrained his fiendish virtuosity in these short songs, the Lizst-Schumann combination proved a happy choice.
Paul Stewart once again displayed his splendidly lyrical reading technique and ability to project dynamic contrasts. His cultivated piano playing offered plenty of colour, brought off with effortless elegance. If there is a criticism, it is that his touch is so light that often one sees his finger descend on a note but no sound emanates.
The other concert, also under the aegis of the IMAS, was a tribute to the late Maharaja of Mysore's connection with Medtner. That fascinating association deserves an article of its own, but it was singularly appropriate and an inspired choice, to hold this concert in the Bangalore Palace, with the erstwhile royal family as chief guests.
My misgiving that an all-Medtner recital might be too “difficult” for a Bangalore audience, proved unfounded. The repertoire, from the lively “Danza Festiva” to the particularly melodious “Sonata Reminiscenza”, provided an array of contrasting moods. Medtner's “Fairy Tales”, evocative of castles, beasts, a magical twilight world, found visual echoes in the Durbar Hall's quixotic atmosphere: the sun's last rays briefly illumined the stained-glass windows before the splendid chandeliers were turned on, revealing the mythical creatures on the stucco wall panels.
Paul Stewart is an internationally recognised advocate of this lesser-known Russian composer. He relied on subtle suggestion, rather than direct and defined statement, to balance Medtner's combination of “head and heart”.
His performance proved equal to the repertoire's demand: of technical, intellectual as well as emotional resources, ranging from restless,almost demonic, excitement to the misty evocations of childhood and romance. Stewart also conducted master classes for piano students and Bangalore will continue to look forward to his visits which entertain, illumine and instruct.