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Fine Pianism From Tanya Bannister

Tanya BannisterTanya Bannister was the latest exponent of her art in the WPAS Hayes Series’ presentation of beautiful young ladies that play the piano. The last one did not fare so well (pianistically, at any rate) – but the Hong-Kong born Tanya Bannister fortunately proved able enough that her inclusion in this generally prestigious series was merited on musical grounds.

Robert Schumann’s Abegg Variations were proof for that: an exquisite balance and coherent presentation, marred only by a carelessly sounded upper register, charmed right off the bat. To hear Clara Schumann in Three Romances op.21 held much appeal, too… and not only because she is a rarely played ‘novelty composer’ but because her compositions – a few piano pieces and songs, mostly – are very enjoyable works. The dense Andante is perhaps weighed down by its portentousness, the Allegretto is lovingly flimsy, the Agitato sounds like east-of-the-Rhine Chopin. Played with all the requisite tenderness and panache, if with something less than utmost care and attention, it ought to have put Clara Schumann a little bit further back on the map of piano recitals.

Albéniz is more substantial – and challenging – fare; Evocación and El Puerto from Book I of Iberia were extraordinarily well played: with facility, faint touches and bold assertions. Even if it stayed ‘piano music’ throughout, evoking less the smell of Spain than that of a conservatory hallway, this was impressively done.

Carl Vine is an Australian composer, barely over 50, who wrote Five Bagatelles to explore his ideas for small keyboard works – inspired by the fifth bagatelle, “Threnody”, which he had composed for himself to perform. “Darkly”, “leggiero e legato”, two untitled movements, and said “Threnody” are amiable enough to disappoint the veteran avant-gardeists (not many at the Hayes series, I surmise) but too wild and tonally ambiguous to be enjoyed by conservative ears. They are, however, wist- and playful enough to put a smile on the minority of listeners that falls between the two camps. The music goes by the ear much like rain beats against window panes; awareness of it is spurious, the reaction to it perhaps more dependent on the mood of the moment than the music itself. Anyone who likes Debussy and Ligeti, for example, would gladly listen to Vine’s Bagatelles.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, From Pianist Tanya Bannister, A Smart, Lyrical Performance (Washington Post, January 29)
With a little (no… actually a rather long) introduction for Suzanne Farrin’s “This is the story she began”, Ms. Bannister, a friend of Ms. Farrin’s from their days at Yale, began the second half of the program. Had there not been Brahms’ Handel Variations waiting at the end of the program, more people might have left at intermission. But Suzanne Farrin’s piece turned out to be of the perfectly harmless modern kind that I, for one, have an infinite capacity for mild appreciation or, sometimes, even enthusiasm. (The best of Benjamin C.S. Boyle’s work, for example.) “This is the Story” (washed-out Frederic Rzewski meets Thomas de Hartmann, perhaps) won’t have a lasting impact on the piano repertoire apart from that of Ms. Farrin’s friends – but it is a nice step along what seems a promising career in composition.

Not very much of Brahms’ solo piano repertoire excites me terribly – and plenty leaves me cold, entirely. It seems that, more with Brahms and Schumann than, say, Schubert or Scriabin, or Field, it is best to pick only the cherries from it. One such cherry is undoubtedly the set of Variations on a Theme of Handel. Its subject alone makes for slightly lighter, less masculine, stern, and earnest music (except the concluding Fugue). It still demands plenty power – as Brahms always does – but not so much that the muscular but lithe Ms. Bannister would have had to strain to achieve the desired effect. All murmured along nicely to cap a pleasant recital in style.