Fortepianist gives audience a thrill

South African fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout showed a large crowd Sunday afternoon at Skidmore C

South African fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout showed a large crowd Sunday afternoon at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center how two fortepianos should be played: a reproduction of a 1790 Gabriel Anton Walter built by Richard Hester of Albany in 1986; and an original 1826 Conrad Graf that the college has on a long-term loan.

Actually, the afternoon recital was all about the Graf, which Brooke Allen’s family owns. Allen himself doesn’t play piano, he said on Sunday, but his mother did play the Graf. For years until the 1980s, it was housed in a country home in Tuscany before it was moved to Florence. In 2007, Allen inherited the instrument and called noted Graf restorer Edward Swenson, who gave a technical and very erudite pre-concert lecture. Eventually the instrument was restored and ended up at Skidmore.

Because the Graf is a bit delicate, Bezuidenhout divided his program between two Mozart sonatas on the Walter and four Schubert Impromptus Op. 90 (1827) on the Graf. He gave both instruments a full workout.

Both instruments are chestnut-colored, with the Walter made of spruce and mahogany and the Graf of Carpathian walnut and spruce. The Walter has knee levers to dampen and soften the sound, the Graf has five pedals for various colors.

In Mozart’s Sonata in F Major (1778) and Sonata in B-flat Major (1783), the Walter’s sound was softly muffled compared to a modern piano’s big ringing tone. Audience quiet was of the pin-drop level. Bezuidenhout’s speedy and clear technique and crisp releases were remarkable thanks to the instrument’s key action. His style is something of a fireball — his commitment is so intense that it seems only the best possible result would be acceptable. Yet he let his phrases breathe, he paced the slower sections admirably and brought the music to life in a vigorous and forceful way.

The Graf’s tone rang and was louder, more like a modern piano. The damper pedal provided the familiar blurring of sound and dynamic ranges were wider. Schubert’s pieces had his signature singing melodies, some with an inner dramatic and chordal section. All were lovely and Bezuidenhout captured each piece’s spirit.

Bezuidenhout told the crowd that each register of the Graf was different: the bass was plummy, the tenor was woody but velvety, and the top was brilliant. In those sections that required fleet fingerwork, it was interesting to note Bezuidenhout’s clarity was not always as great as it had been in the Mozart/Walter. His use of possibly the una corda pedal to vary the sound in the third Impromptu made for different effects (muffled to clarity).

A standing ovation brought an encore of an early Schubert, Adagio in G, which was sweet and peaceful.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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