Friday, May 22, 2009

Ran Dank

The shaggy-haired Israeli went last in the afternoon session. From my vantage point in the third row center, I could hear him singing along with the music that he played. This is a more common habit among pianists than you might think; much 19th-century piano music requires a "singing line," in which the pianist tries to make the instrument flow from note to note as effortlessly as a singer does. (Not the easiest thing to do with a box filled with hammers and strings.) Glenn Gould famously used to do it. His voice can be heard on some of his piano recordings. Stephen Beus did it, too, though he didn't actually make sounds. He just moved his lips like he was singing.

Anyway, Ran Dank started with Boulez' Notations, a piece I wasn't familiar with. When you're playing a piece that's unfamiliar to the public, you're not just interpreting the music. You're making a case for it; why the crowd should be listening to it instead of another Beethoven sonata. Dank did pretty decently in that regard for this halting, eruptive piece. He then launched straight into Beethoven's Sonata "Quasi una Fantasia" without getting up to acknowledge applause or even taking his hands off the keyboard. It would have worked better if his Beethoven had been anything more than unobjectionable and uninvolving.

He did rather better with Scriabin's "Black Mass" Sonata No. 9, followed by another unfamiliar piece, Liszt's Reminiscences de Norma, which is not about a girl named Norma, though given Liszt's reputation with women, who knows? Rather, it's a piece based on his impressions of Bellini's opera. (Liszt did a lot of pieces like that.) I couldn't fault Dank's technique, nor his command of the idiom. The Scriabin had the right sort of acrid unwholesomeness that seems to drip from the Russian's works, and the Liszt had the right glamor. On the other hand, Dank was considerably weaker when it came to the architecture of these pieces. This was especially true in the Liszt piece, which sounded right but never gelled. The pianist sure was brilliant in spots, though.

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