Vaccination was required in order to attend the July 2021 Shoemaker salon reopening concert at Central Park West, New York.
Once in the Shoemaker residence, we felt liberated enough to unmask and mingle. How long we had waited for this moment, and how grateful we were to our host!
Pianist Mika Sasaki told us that this was her first unmasked recital in a very long time. She described how the lack of performance opportunities had given her time to reflect, influencing this evening’s concert.
Chopin: Sonata for Piano and Cello op. 65, Allegro Moderato
This troubled, rambling late-life work by Chopin seemed a gloomy way to resume in-person recitals. Shouldn’t we be dancing with joy? And yet, Chopin’s morose meandering seemed appropriate in the fading anguish of the pandemic.
Amy Beach Improvisation op. 148, Gavotte Fantastique op. 54
Amy Beach was born just 18 years after Chopin’s passing. The serenity of her Improvisation op. 148 felt like sunlight after a storm. It was followed by the spritely Gavotte Fantastique. Delightfully baroque at the start and more lyrical in the middle, the Gavotte closed with a reprise of the stately opening.
Unsuk Chin: Piano Etude No. 2 “Sequenzen”
Mika Sasaki introduced Unsuk Chin as a pupil of Ligeti, giving us a hint of what to expect from Sequenzen. This is a technically challenging work, with a strong lower register motif and explosive extremes. Ms. Sasaki unleashed the full dynamic range of the Shoemaker Steinway, a shock after the delicacies of Amy Beach. This stunning performance was a remarkable accomplishment for Ms. Sasaki, who had only a month to bring it up to concert level.
George Walker: Sonata No. 2 for Piano
George Walker was the first African-American composer to win a Pulitzer prize for music. This short Sonata was written 40 years earlier, and was not easy for me to grasp. I was still scratching my head when it finished after just 10 minutes.
Rachmaninoff/Bach: “Preludio” from Violin Partita in E Major
If earlier parts of the recital were metaphors for the upheaval of the past 16 months, Bach’s timeless Partita was our return to normal. Ms. Sasaki played Rachmaninoff’s arrangement with nimble charm, earning rousing applause and a call of “bravo”.
George Rochberg: Ricordanza (Soliloquy) for Cello and Piano
Mitchell Lyon described this piece to us, noting some works that it quotes. Mika illustrated these on the piano, causing chuckles in the audience. Ricordanza was a more supportive showcase for Mitchell’s lyrical touch than the somewhat gloomy Chopin played earlier.
Lili and Nadia Boulanger
The evening closed with cello/piano duets by sisters Lili Boulanger and Nadia Boulanger, introduced by Mitchell.
First was Lili’s “Parfois, je suis triste“, a melodic arrangement based on a poem that Mitchell paraphrased as follows. Sometimes I’m sad, but then I think of you and I’m not so sad. But then I get sad again because I’m not sure if you feel the same way about me as I feel about you!
Finally, we were treated to Nadia’s Three Pieces for Piano and Cello. In the first, Mika’s piano seemed to circle Mitchell’s cello like butterflies in a Monet garden. The second was similarly dreamy. The third broke out as a frenetic dance and ended with an awkward flourish.
Mika Sasaki is a versatile pianist with a flair for modern repertoire. Paired with cellist Mitchell Lyon, the duo gave us a wonderful evening. Their eclectic program had parallels with our collective experience, right down to the “not quite finished” close of Nadia Boulanger’s 3rd work.
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