By Jim Leonard – a special review for The Vernon Morning Star
Brilliant pianist Ian Parker delighted the audience as he performed on the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s new Hamburg Steinway piano Saturday, Oct. 29th at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
The soloist for the evening, Ian Parker, was also a charming host, sharing interesting tidbits about the composers and their music throughout the evening. He came with his own theme for the concert, “Variations on Inspirations.” His program featured a number of theme and variations compositions, starting with Joseph Haydn’s Variations in F minor.
From the moment I heard the first few notes, I knew NOCCA had acquired a beautiful instrument. Parker’s playing brought out the sparkle in the many trills and runs found in Haydn’s music.
Next on the program were arrangements of two Franz Schubert songs by Franz Liszt. The first one, Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel, incorporated some of Schubert’s descriptive accompaniment, an urgent, incessant whirling of notes depicting the spinning wheel’s movement, while adding thickness to the texture. In the midst of this was the actual melody, normally sung, but skillfully emphasized by Parker’s playing.
The second piece Singing Over the Water, was challenging and complicated, but no problem for Parker. He maintained poise and clarity throughout the piece.
Beethoven’s Sonata Opus 26 allowed us to hear the clarity and richness of the bass range of the piano. It all just seemed to make sense. Every note rang true under Parker’s fingers.
The sonata itself breaks away from strict sonata form and begins with a theme and variations. More and more of the piano’s range is explored in this sonata, from deep dark bass chords to sparkling high notes.
Movement two had a sprightly scherzo and trio, which provided contrast to the more academic sounding variations. The funeral march in movement three brought out the dark colouring available on such a splendid instrument. Parker managed some wonderful sotto voce (shadow or distance sound) in the quieter parts of this movement, giving it a hushed reverence. In contrast there were regal fanfare figures played crisply by Parker as if the dead were rising up.
The fourth movement, Escape from the Body, was a toccata in a classical style. It employed a technique involving rolling the wrists outwards while playing a series of fast notes. Again, no problem for Parker.
At this point in the program, contrast was provided by Three Preludes by George Gershwin. Number one was a type of tone poem that depicted daily life in New York City with all its business and traffic noise. Number two was a cool bluesy piece, which Parker swung by making the eighth notes uneven. It was perfect with many colours of tone coming from the piano.
Number three was in the style of a Spanish rhapsody with intoxicating rhythms and exotic melodies at the end of which Parker jumped up off the piano bench during the last note as if to shout “Ole!” The already charmed crowd loved it.
After intermission, Parker played Johannes Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel. He commented on the fact that Brahms loved the structures found in baroque music. A case in point is the fugue, a form perfected by J.S. Bach, which finishes the variations. Brahms infuses romantic force into the variations and the fugue, setting the piece apart from the baroque style.
This piece was an excellent choice by Parker. It was very complex and dense in texture and showed how well the piano and performer could hold up under intense pressure from so many notes.
For the finale, Parker brought his student, Jaeden Izik-Dzurko, a Grade 12 student from Salmon Arm, out to join him in Lutoslawski’s Variations on Paganini for Two Pianos.
When you see this young man’s credentials –– associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music, grand prize winner of the Canadian Music Festival National Competition, soloist with the Kamloops and Okanagan Symphony Orchestras –– you have to be impressed. His talent is a credit to Parker’s great teaching skills.
On stage were both the new and retiring Steinways. The piece required the utmost in virtuosity from both pianists. They met the challenge with ease.
Congratulations to all who had a part in bringing the new piano to our stage, especially Parker, who introduced the instrument to us in a most stunning way.
– Guest reviewer Jim Leonard is a Vernon-based pianist, organist and composer.