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Music School: Christopher Taylor, piano

Beethoven: Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1
Messiaen: Vingt Regards sur L'Enfant Jésus
   XVII - Regard du silence
   XVIII - Regard de l'Onction terrible
   XIX - Je dors, main mon coeur veille
   XX - Regard de l'Eglise d'amour
Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6
Schumann: Toccata, Op. 7

Christopher Taylor, piano


UW faculty pianist Christopher Taylor's recital at Mill Hall Saturday evening was very well received by a large audience. I was unable to divine an underlying rationale for the programming concept, which was Beethoven, Messiaen and Schumann, in that order.

Virtuosity on the scale Taylor has it -- a truly amazing amount -- is delightful and exciting, but it also sometimes gets too much into the foreground, where it can obscure musical subtleties. This happened in the finale of Beethoven's Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 2, No. 1, where prestissimo and fortissimo combined in little more than a blur; a slight moderation of both speed and dynamics would have preserved the whirlwind character that's in the score without exceeding the bounds of acoustic realities. The more relaxed sections of this movement were very beautifully played, however. In the opening allegro movement, Taylor seemed reluctant to let each phrase reach completion before launching into the next one, but the overall musical character was very nicely realized. There were brief episodes of rushing in the third movement too, but the sonata's adagio was heavenly playing indeed.

Schumann's Toccata, Op. 7 concluded the program. In pianist parlance it's a real finger-breaker: very fleet and very hard to pay cleanly. Toccatas of the Romantic period are designed to be showy vehicles for keyboard gymnasts. Taylor didn't seem to find it particularly difficult. Fortunately the piece has a middle section that provides temporary relief from all the fireworks, and there Taylor made very lovely music.

Fireworks of a different order are a major feature of Messiaen's Twenty Views of the Infant Jesus, which as the name suggests is a collection of deeply religious pieces unified by its subject and the composer's unique musical tropes. In remarks to the audience, Taylor suggested the last four pieces might be viewed as a kind of sonata, and indeed they contrast fairly strongly with one another. Musically, their language is so idiosyncratic as to be more or less indecipherable for long stretches. Rhythmic schemata are often abstractly stylized and the harmonic language depends heavily on the intervals of minor second and seventh, which after a while begins to pall, the more so when a given structure is repeated many, many times, as in the final work. Pianistically, these pieces are of superordinate difficulty, so much so that it still seems impossible even as you watch it being done. In all these works remain problematic, at least for me.

The juxtaposition of the Schumann Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6 following the Messiaen, I realized only after the concert was long over, was revealing. Both are collections of shorter character pieces, both are extremely demanding pianistically, and both seem derived from a not dissimilar kind of Romantic ecstatic vision. The Schumann consists of two books of nine pieces each, full of fire and passion on the one hand and of delicacy and tenderness on the other. Here it seemed to me Taylor's extraordinary technique at all times served an essentially lyrical objective, and when the music was frankly poignant, the only phrase for the playing was that it was a sublime revelation.

Madison Music Review, November, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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