A little night music: Kristian Bezuidenhout and the Graf Fortepiano dazzle at Zankel

Posted by Kristin Travagline

On Sunday Sept. 18 renowned pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout brought the nineteenth century to Skidmore College during the unveiling of a ca. 1826 original Graf Fortepiano. The special concert took place at the Arthur Zankel Music Center.

Ms. Brooke Allen, whose family has been in possession of the instrument for nearly 200 years, has recently loaned the piano to the college. Edward Swenson, emeritus professor of music at Ithaca College, gave a pre-performance talk on Conrad Graf, the foremost fortepiano builder in Vienna during the early nineteenth century.

Swenson himself is a fortepiano builder and expert of Graf pianos and recognizes their distinctiveness. "Anybody who works on pianos, the minute you get inside one of these instruments you see the absolutely uncompromising excellence of the workmanship and the materials. There's not a smudge of glue anywhere, there's not anything that offends the eye when you look inside. Hammers are perfectly made. It takes your breath away," he said.

Immediately after, the concert was underway. The first half of the performance featured Mozart's Sonata in F Major and Sonata in B-flat Major on an Anton Walter Fortepiano restored by Richard Hester, appropriately, as Mozart is one of Bezuidenhout's favorite composers. "His writing for the piano is so perfect, so incredibly refined and subtle, I find it my favorite," he said.

Bezuidenhout began his studies in Australia, completed them at the Eastman School of Music, and now lives in London. He is a guest professor at the Schola Cantorum in Basel and the Eastman School of Music. In 2007 he was awarded the Erwin Bodky Prize and the Deutschlandfunk Forderpreis. He is Artistic Advisor for the Constelation Center, Cambridge, MA.

Before playing the first note, Bezuidenhout's hands lingered steady just above the keys in a reverential manner. From the instant he began, Bezuidenhout's demeanor physically embodied of the music. His eyebrows pulsed up and down. At rapid moments in the score, he held his face close to the keyboard. During slower moments, his head fell back into the air, as though luxuriating. He did not even seem to look at the score.

Bezuidenhout's control over Mozart's multifaceted material was quite apparent in the Allegro Asai of Sonata in F Major. The piece began with a playful exchange between fast playing and light high notes, which seemed to exemplify the difference between prancing and running.

The second half of the show began with a short introduction of Schubert's Four Impromptus played on the Graf piano. Bezuidenhout explained how the following pieces functioned as four essays in piano sound and texture. He then asked the audience to take note of the plumy base tones, woody tenor tones, and the glittering, crystalline passagework. By all accounts, Bezuidenhout's performance gave Schubert's pieces their due.

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