John O’Conor performed in Barre Saturday night.
BARRE — A Barre audience enthusiastically yelling “Bravo!” repeatedly for Schubert? That’s just what happened Saturday at the Barre Opera House.
Irish pianist John O’Conor had just finished Franz Schubert’s great Piano Sonata in c minor, D. 958, closing the 2013-2014 Celebration Series, when the audience erupted. And, like all Schubert, it wasn’t a particularly bravura work but – in O’Conor’s expert hands – it proved a deeply powerful experience.
O’Conor, known to local audiences for his annual summer week of master classes at Adamant Music School, is a performer of international stature. He is particularly renowned as one of the world’s great Beethoven pianists. Still, it was the music of Schubert gripped Saturday’s audience.
Schubert lived in the shadow of Beethoven, but his last three piano sonatas are equal to any Beethoven wrote. Menahem Pressler gave a masterful performance of the Schubert’s B-flat Sonata a couple of seasons ago on the Celebration Series.
The C Minor Sonata is a big sprawling work and can often seem rambling. But O’Conor’s expert performance turned it into musical storytelling. Without any excess of expression, he delineated the myriad episodes, making the transitions seamlessly and effortlessly – and, most importantly, making sense of them, delivering the drama.
Particularly O’Conor’s performance of the slow movement, Adagio, was even suspenseful as there was a wait to find out what happens next. O’Conor built that into his performance without ever losing the flow of Schubert’s gorgeous lyricism.
Yes, there was some virtuosic playing in the Finale, as well as plenty of wit, even grandeur. Finally, O’Conor’s was a beautifully profound performance – and that was what Saturday’s audience was responding to.
O’Conor revealed his deep understanding of Beethoven with a richly dramatic performance of the Sonata No. 21 in C Major, Opus 53, known as “Waldstein” for its dedicatee. The approach was straightforward, with no affectation or attempt to be “personal.” It was simply excellent playing coupled with a deep understanding of the music.
The pianist quietly built the unrelenting drive of the opening Allegro con brio, bringing it to its dramatic conclusion. There was again an air of anticipation in “Itroduzione (Introduction),” moving seamlessly into to the final Rondo which romped to the end. It was a deep and powerful performance of a masterpiece.
As an appetizer, O’Conor played Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles, Opus 126. O’Conor delivered these miniatures, microcosms of Beethoven’s world. With same depth and drama he gave the “Waldstein.”
Dessert was in the form of encores – two very diverse nocturnes. The first, by the Irish John Field (1882-1837), originator of the nocturne, was a beautiful mix of tenderness and grandeur. One of Alexander Scriabin’s nocturnes for the left hand alone reflected the same, but rhapsodized with a dark Russian accent.
The Barre classical music audience may not be huge but it certainly can be enthusiastic – when so moved.
For information about the Barre Opera House Celebration Series, call 802-476-8188, or go online to www.barreoperahouse.org.MORE IN Central Vermont
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