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Nelson Goerner's piano overflows with emotion in Sundin Music Hall concert

"With meticulous and marvelous musicianship, he made his interpretation of Frederic Chopin's complete 24 Preludes feel like a 40-minute epiphany, each brief piece an insight into some aspect of the composer's conflicted soul."

 

Call me a sucker for depth, but I find few concert experiences more satisfying than when an artist or ensemble enriches my understanding of a particular composer through an extended exploration of their music. And when the performance features not only expert technique but meticulously well thought-out interpretations in which emotional reserve or reticence are cast to the wind, then it becomes particularly memorable.

Such was pianist Nelson Goerner's recital at St. Paul's Sundin Music Hall on Sunday afternoon.

With meticulous and marvelous musicianship, he made his interpretation of Frederic Chopin's complete 24 Preludes feel like a 40-minute epiphany, each brief piece an insight into some aspect of the composer's conflicted soul.

It inspired the second standing ovation that the pianist received from the overflow crowd at this Chopin Society concert, for which extra chairs were assembled on stage around Goerner and the Steinway that he turned into such an eloquent emotional conduit.

The first came before intermission, after he'd turned a collection of meaty miniatures from Robert Schumann, his "Kreisleriana," into a gripping battle between the composer's internal demons and calmer influences. Its fast fugues were executed with astounding accuracy, its conclusion a haunting yet playful danse macabre.

From the opening strains of the recital's first piece - Mozart's Fourth Sonata - it was clear that the Argentina-born, Switzerland-based Goerner approached his playing with intensity. He craned over the keyboard, the back of his head and neck horizontal, his nose often inches from the keys. But intensity doesn't need to be weighty, as he proved with a playful interpretation.

However, my lasting impression of the concert will come from the Chopin Preludes, although which created the greatest impact will remain a matter of internal debate. When the dreamy No. 7 was interrupted by the tumultuous nightmare of No. 8, No. 20 affecting an air of authority but torn apart by grief inside?

The 22nd sounding like the 19th-century equivalent of punk rock, Goerner's left hand a blur as it hammered out chords of rage?

Or perhaps there was nothing more powerful than the 15th, a lilting lullaby that turned into night terrors before finding its way back to bliss. It may have been the most powerful example of this pianist's astounding capacity for communicating emotion.

— Rob Hubbard, St. Paul Pioneer Press