Lang Lang, dazzling as he can play, lacks what Martha Argerich and
Nelson Freire provided to an adoring audience Sunday night in Davies
Hall: something real, unaffected, natural, uncalculated, with attention
on the music and nothing else.
They do not behave like stars: she wears no makeup, he treats her as a
loving, kind uncle, they play duopiano without looking at each other or
using loud breathing as cues - they are "just" making music as one at a
distance of 10 feet. He gave his first concert at age 4 (56 years ago),
she at 8 (55 years ago), and yet there is nothing routine about their
playing, they sound more tentative, searching, "young" than Lang Lang
Brahms' "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," Rachmaninoff's Suite No. 2,
and Schubert's Rondo in A Major were firmly anchored between Classical
and Romantic idioms; I could have done without Lutoslawski's loud
"Variations on a Theme by Paganini," but the Ravel "La Valse" had
incredible moments - from the opening haunting, oceanic sound to the
theme emerging with power and great emotional impact.
Three short encores closed a rather short evening, house lights going
up at exactly two hours, SF Symphony management calling it a night even
in the midst of a continuing standing ovation. The ephemeral quality
of the encores made up for the lack of quantity: "Laideronette" from
Ravel's "Ma mere l'oye Suite," Rachmaninoff's Waltz Op. 11, No. 4,
and Carlos Guastavino's deceptively Liszt-like "Il bailecito."
This might have been Freire's first appearance in San Francisco, unless
I am told otherwise, but definitely a debut under SF Symphony auspices.
Argerich hasn't played here for several years. If you want to see and
hear more of them, you're in luck: the Brazilian documentary "Nelson
Freire" will be shown at the SF International Film Festival, in the
Kabuki Theater, on April 24, May 1 and 3; see
Joao Moreira Salles's 2003 film traces the pianist's journey from rural
Brazil to the pinnacle of international stardom, however reluctant Freire
is to put up with the nuisance of fame. The documentary provides
magnificent music, quirky scenes (Freire and Argerich cleaning their
piano keys with her "4711" cologne), and fascinating backstage scenes -
similar to the informality of their onstage interaction tonight.
There are rehearsal and concert excerpts, revealing closeups of Freire
and Argerich in private moments (both individually and together), and
marvelous insights into Freire's artistry, often in surprising situations.
As the pianist talks about Guiomar Novaes - another "unknown great" and
his teacher - or watches a Fred Astaire movie, his delight in the natural,
unaffected brilliance of others shows simply and powerfully what makes
In an utterly charming scene, Freire is beaming as he is watching Errol
Garner play, keeps pointing to the screen, and then says: "that joy...
that's music... I am not happy after a concert if I haven't felt that
kind of pleasure for just a moment." The documentary is full of moments
that allow the viewer share in that kind of experience, as was the case
in Davies Hall tonight.
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