Pianist Inon Barnatan Captures Grace of Tchaikovsky at JSO Concert

Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) Piano Concerto No. 2 op. 44 in G major is not considered as popular as his first concerto. However, in terms of technicality and exquisiteness, it is an amazing piece. It is only fair of me to start off by saying I am partial to the piano, so naturally, I am more keenly going to home in on the skill and virtuosity (superb technical ability) of the pianist.

Pianist Inon Barnatan

Watching Inon Barnatan perform this past weekend with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra was like observing the art of making wine. You need just the right amount of fruit, texture and color to create something fine for the palate. It was clear Inon has the ability to perform Tchaikovsky with the precise level of color, texture and smoothness to create a sound that carries through the depths of our hearts. His technique and virtuosity shows he understands the music by his ability to showcase the composer’s mood and desires.

The work had been revised and even Tchaikovsky himself made revisions in this concerto, but Inon performed it in its original luster.

The piece also allows the pianist to shine and Tchaikovsky endeavored to separate piano and orchestra as much as possible. The piano is the feature, but so is the pianist himself. The music requires a bit of athleticism and Inon lives up to the task. He was in perfect shape to pull off this challenging composition.

The second movement, “Andante non troppo,” is rather fascinating because it is written like a triple concerto with solo parts for violin (performed eloquently by Concertmaster Philip Pan who drew out the “romance” of this concerto) and cello (performed by Principal Alexei Romanenko, as equally mesmerizing and hauntingly beautiful) followed by the piano. Inon rather “glided” in the movement, as though moving across the dance floor to a slow, flowing waltz, until finally all three waltzed together in a sort of chamber-esque feel (or small ensemble).

The physical attributes are once again displayed in the third and final movement, “Allegro con fuoco” and even Inon’s facial expressions and body movements gave rise to his delight in the music. With his nimble fingers flying across the keys, dancing as if they were mere water droplets bouncing off the plastic keys, his skill revealed more. His fingers were well exercised and methodically and strategically placed to execute a brilliant set of measures in this rousing finale.

The audience could not hold back from its applause before the final notes had been played in Inon’s breathtaking and compelling performance.

(click here for my interview with Inon Barnatan)

The JSO performed another fabulous composition, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s (1844-1908) Capriccio espagnol, op. 34. The piece is written in five brief variations. Although the music begins with a stirring 60-second introduction (“Alborada”), it flows gently into a soothing melody (“Variazioni”) before coming back to it’s opening (“Alborada”).

The violin is given another opportunity to shine solo (“Scena e canto gitano”) and Philip Pan takes the task to heart with a brief interlude, accompanied by the snare drums lightly tapping in the background. Many of the instruments, such as the flute, harp and cello, also have occasion for brief solo moments in this variation. It is always a joy to see orchestras showcasing their own musicians.

This lively melody is rather gypsy-like in its tone and there is a definite dance feel to this piece, heard especially in the last variation (“Fandango asturiano”).

Have you heard Tchaikovsky’s second piano concerto? Seen Inon Barnatan perform? Tell us about your experiences.

Upcoming Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Performances:
Feb. 11, 2012

La Bohème
Soprano Inna Dukach and Tenor Dinyar Vania

Feb. 16 – 18, 2012
Brahms Fourth Symphony
Beethoven: Triple Concerto
Terrence Wilson, piano; Kelly Hall-Tompkins, violin; Tahirah Whittington, cello
Brahms: Symphony No. 4

Upcoming Inon Barnatan Performances:
Jan. 31 – Feb. 14, 2012

European Tour with Alisa Weilerstein

Feb. 26 & 27, 2012
Lincoln Center

March 3 – 5, 2012
Saint-Saëns: Concerto for Piano No. 2 in G Minor, op. 22
Oregon Symphony

March 20, 2012
Midwestern State University (Wichita Falls, TX)

March 28, 2012
Wheaton College (Norton, Mass.)

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2 Responses to Pianist Inon Barnatan Captures Grace of Tchaikovsky at JSO Concert

  1. Phil Cushman says:

    I had not heard of Inon Barnatan before seeing him listed on the Jacksonville Symphony schedule and I had not been aware that Tchaikovsky wrote a second piano concerto. I began preparing by trying to find a recording of the Second and had a difficult time doing so. I listened to the Concerto recording on the 75 mile drive to Jacksonville to see the concert and found the music interesting and enjoyable but Inon Barnatan’s performance far exceeded the recording. I am sure I will hear much more of him over the years and I hope he records the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2. He is an impressive pianist.

    • J.M. Lacey says:

      I was hoping to find Inon’s recording of the Tchaikovsky concerto when I did his interview last week, but alas, there wasn’t one. I hope he will record it, too, for he was remarkable.

      Thanks for sharing, Phil, and glad you enjoyed the concert!

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