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Thursday, July 30, 2009

A New Piano Discovery

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata quasi una fantasia, Op. 27, No. 2 (Moonlight) [16:03]

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Fantasiest├╝cke, Op. 12 [28:13]

Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1839)

Fantasie Op. 49 in f minor. [13:02]

Kevin Kenner (piano)

Recorded at the Opole Philharmonic Concert Hall, February 2008.

DUX 0633 [55:57]

The idea of the Fantasy (Fantasie, Fantasia, Phantasy…pick your preferred spelling) has been around for a few hundred years. And why not? What would be more tempting to a composer than to let his or her imagination run free, unrestrained by the rules of form? Works by some of the earliest keyboard composers in the early sixteenth century bear the title. The romantic composers had a field day with the genre, producing some magnificent and original works.

Beethoven’s two sonatas Opus 27, which bear the name “quasi una fantasia”, make use of this musical free-wheeling in their opening movements. The “Moonlight” so named by the poet Heinrich Rellstab when he commented that the first movement reminded him of the moonlight over Lake Lucerne, opens with what in other hands could have been a monotonous chord progression of broken traids, followed by a rather out of character and jaunty second movement, and ends with a c-sharp minor thunderstorm by which a pianist could easily sprain a wrist.

Robert Schumann’s collection of miniatures is intentionally programmatic, each with whimsical titles. Rapid-fire shifts of emotion mark these gems that can at one moment lull the listener into reveries and at the next send him bolting out of his easy-chair.

Chopin gives us a work on a far grander scale, a composition that runs the gamut of emotions from serenity to broad rushes of emotional turbulence.

It is all delivered with great finesse by the American Pianist Kevin Kenner, heretofore unknown to me, but who seems to have established a fine working relationship with the Polish Dux label. A musician of excellent pedigree, Mr. Kenner plays with great technical authority and with a fine sensitivity to structure, form, tonal shading and expression. Perfectly able to exhibit technical brilliance, Mr. Kenner chooses to disguise his prowess in subtleties rather than to blast us with unseemly keyboard pyrotechnics. His playing of the much over-recorded Beethoven sonata is governed with impeccable taste. Even the flashy finale is rendered with much elegance, with careful attention to inner voices, and with special care to make the perpetual arpeggios come across with clarity and precision.

His Schumann can be positively dreamy where allowed; powerful and authoritative where appropriate. The contrast between Evening with its serene melody and Soaring with its jet engine power is so pronounced that the shift between movements can be startling.

Finally, Mr. Kenner delivers a beautifully restrained account of Chopin’s Op. 49. It is so easy to romp through Chopin’s music just to show off, and somewhat rare to find a player who has discovered the poetry in the music. Kenner is just such a musician, and he is able, through carefully crafted phrasing and a fine singing melodic line to bring off this music in such a way as to never belie its technical sand traps.

As always, the highest compliment I can pay to a recording is that it left me wanting to hear more from the artist. This is just such a disc. Kevin Kenner is a fine discovery; one that I hope will come to even more international attention in the future.

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