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Brian Ganz @ JCCGW

The following article is more of an appreciation than a review, since the concert in question was presented at a venue for which the author also writes program notes. The reader is thus notified of the possible conflict of interest.

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Chopin, Preludes, B. Ganz
Any musician who makes it to the final round of a major competition has talent and training. As the saying goes, the winner of such a competition is often the one who has the least faults, but perhaps not the greatest virtue. There are exceptions among competition winners, to be sure, but sometimes further down the prize list are players who may go on to greater achievements, if they can manage to find their way to regular audiences. One such musician is pianist Brian Ganz, who took third prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1991, the year that Frank Braley won and Alexander Melnikov claimed fifth prize. Ganz has become familiar to Washington audiences, especially since an acclaimed series of concerts at Strathmore, still ongoing, in which he is playing the complete works of Chopin. After many trusted ears have directed me to Ganz's playing, I finally had the chance to hear him in person on Sunday night, when he played a recital of music by Beethoven and Debussy at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville.

Ganz still has the impeccable hands of a competitive pianist, taking daring tempi in the outer movements of the first Beethoven sonata, the "Pathétique" (C minor, op. 13) and with absolute clarity down to the tiniest note. The surface perfection, though, was not the source of the performance's appeal, as Ganz told a story with the score, one of suffering in the Grave section of the first movement, balanced by a revolutionary fervor in the contrasting Allegro, an elegiac lyricism in the famous slow movement, caressing unusual harmonies and melodic turns, and a crisp, even merciless finale. It was in the other Beethoven sonata, the always surprising op. 109, that Ganz made his mark, with the serene main theme of the first movement unbalanced by parenthetical outbursts, a feeling matched in the mercurial middle movement. The sublime concluding variations, perhaps the composer's greatest achievement in this form that obsessed him in his final years, elicited from Ganz a riot of ideas, each one standing on its own and yet part of a continuous narrative.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Pianist Brian Ganz’s fresh take on Debussy, Beethoven (Washington Post, September 16)
Ganz took a risk with the Debussy pieces on the program, with which he took his time, exploring meticulously subtle ranges of color and dynamics in a way that put some listeners at the edge of somnolence. Book 1 of Images featured soft, sighing exhalations of sound in Reflets dans l'eau, with brilliant cascades of the right hand, and a sensual delight in the gentle dance rhythms of the Hommage à Rameau. Ganz's emphasis on motoric, even savage sounds in Mouvement revealed Debussy's influence on Stravinsky. Three of the most familiar preludes from Debussy's first book sparked Ganz's gift for story-telling, and L'Isle Joyeuse made for an exuberant conclusion, after which came a single Chopin nightcap, the laconic A major prelude from op. 28, offered as a "goodnight kiss."

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