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Music School: Karp Family Concert in Memory of Gunnar Johansen

Liszt: Années de Pèlerinage, Bk. 3
Mozart: Sonata in C Major, K. 521
Liszt: Funeral Gondola
Brahms: Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25

Frances Karp, piano
Howard Karp, piano
Christopher Karp, violin
Katrin Talbot, viola
Parry Karp, cello


In Madison, Labor Day is synonymous with the Karp family's annual concert at Mills Hall. The 16th such event Monday evening lived up to -- well, it clearly surpassed -- the tradition of excellence we've come to expect from the town's First Family of Music; it wasn't just good, it was stunning.

The seriousness of the music was a fitting tribute to Gunnar Johansen, to whose memory the concert was dedicated. Pianist Johansen, who died in May at age 85 was without question the world's foremost interpreter of the music of Franz Liszt. Howard Karp opened Monday's program with three late Liszt pieces from the composer's Years of Wandering, Book 3. Highly contemplative music, full of unresolved emotions, and featuring stark, almost bleak inner landscapes, the three pieces called forth the image of two masters now gone -- Liszt and Johansen -- in the performance of a present master, Karp. Quite simply, it was some of the finest playing I've heard in many a year, and I can't imagine a performance serving the memory of Johansen any better.

Frances Karp joined Howard for a spirited, even rousing, performance of Mozart's Sonata in C Major, K. 521, for piano, four hands. The slow movement of this work is surely one of Mozart's most ingratiating and delightful andantes.

Returning to Liszt, cellist Parry Karp, together with Howard, performed a very rare late work, the Funeral Gondola, inspired by processions on the canals of Venice, where Liszt visited his daughter Cosima and her husband Richard Wagner in 1882. It is an astonishingly beautiful piece, one I had not heard before. There has always been vigor and enormous tone in Parry Karp's playing, and these were much in evidence here. But there was such delicacy, such subtlety, something akin to reverence in his performance of this work -- not to mention perfect ensemble in both sound and spirit between the players -- that I remain haunted by the loveliness of the vision.

After intermission, the whole family (Frances and Howard, sons Christoper and Parry, and daughter-in-law Katrin Talbot) joined forces -- powerful forces they were -- for a really exciting performance of Brahms's Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25, for piano and strings (if you wonder what the fifth member did in this quartet, Frances turned the pages, a charming idea, I thought). The dizzying Gypsy rondo with which the huge work ends was a fitting conclusion to a fine evening of masterly performances, and the capacity audience more than enthusiatically demanded numerous bows.

Isthmus, September, 1991
Copyright 1991 Jess Anderson

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