Pianist Andrew Staupe may be among the most gifted with technical acumen of any pianist I can recall hearing live. He can play anything and can put shape and dynamic nuance to it as though child's play. His final recital piece on Sunday was the 16-minute Rudepoêma (1926) by the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos (1887-1959), said by some to be the most difficult piano piece in the literature.
It called for every pianistic structural device on the 88 keys of which one can conceive: delicately fleet passage work, rapid chromatic scales, rapid chromatic chords, a rapid glissando, a rapid hand crossing always landing perfectly, pearly soft to thunderingly loud contrasts. It was a 16-minute endurance test--for both Staupe and his audience.
For all his skilled perorations, I heard very little music. It was as though Villa-Lobos had strung together every virtuosic structure he could think of and wow the audience with notes, notes and more notes. Well the audience wasn't that wowed, the applause portending intermission being quite tepid. This was Villa-Lobos attempting to outdo Liszt, and succeeding.
Staupe proved the latter by previously including Liszt's Rigoletto Paraphrase, which included Verdi's well known fourth-act Quartet from that 1850 opera. Again we have much virtuoso display, but the Lisztian harmonies were at least some we felt at home with, perhaps because we've heard them often enough, whereas Villa-Lobos seldom gets performed in the states. Villa-Lobos' "tension" is instantly boring, so there is no "resolution" to speak of. Just notes.
Our tall Minnesotan began his recital with a too-little-performed piece: Mendelssohn's Fantasy in F-Sharp Minor, Op. 28, easily in league with, and somewhat resembling many Beethoven piano sonatas. Here Mendelssohn's virtuosity serves the music and makes music with every bar. Except for a tendency to overpedal, Staupe's command of the three-movement work was complete.
Next came a five-minute performance debut -- possibly a first for this series -- Eridanus, based on Greek myths, written in 2012 and attended by Staupe's friend, Christopher Walczak. Cast in a rather conservative idiom, Walczak's piece was over before I could come to grips with it.
The best recital offerings were the Mendelssohn and Debussy's La Terrasse des audiences du clair de lune, the latter of which Staupe played perfectly, his pedaling nicely fitting the "pearls through haze" evocation surely meant by the composer.
As usual, the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra and its music director Kirk Trevor joined Staupe following the break, and opened with Grieg's too-little-presented treasure (which Trevor made up for as he and his forces just played it on their Oct. 29 Masterworks Series): Two Elegiac Melodies for string orchestra, Op. 34 (1881). Lasting less than ten minutes, it is a smile-through-tears forerunner to the Norwegian composer's Holberg Suite, Op. 40, written four years later. Trevor played this wistful piece better in October.
Saving the best till last, Staupe joined the ICO in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595 -- his last. Here Staupe finally lifted his foot more off the pedal and showed a nice legato throughout, with lovely nuances of dynamics. Though starting with a strict tempo, Staupe eased off his rigidity as the movement progressed, excelling in the supreme, Larghetto-marked slow movement as well as anybody, present-day or in my early life.
The lower rating of this event comes from Staupe's choice of "show-off" programming and his overpedaling, before the Mozart. Jan. 27; Indiana History Center
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