Joseph Smith, piano, in recital in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square, Wednesday evening, Nov. 1. One performance only.
The Gina Bachauer Foundation is, of course, best known for the Bachauer International Piano Competition. But last year, through the efforts of director Paul Pollei, the foundation expanded its parameters and started an outreach program aimed at bringing classical music into local schools.
And so, each November, this Music in the Schools program gives area schoolchildren the opportunity to see some first-rate pianists come to their schools and present a short lecture/recital.
An offshoot of Music in the Schools is a series of free concerts given by some of the pianists participating in the outreach program. From now through Nov. 11, local audiences will get to hear five acclaimed performers in recital.
This mini-series began Wednesday evening in the Assembly Hall, where Joseph Smith performed a delightful program that blended some well-known pieces with a few that have been neglected over the years.
Smith is a craftsman. He possesses a keen virtuosity that's tempered with a refined musical sense. His playing is sensitive, expressive and nuanced.
And as he showed during Wednesday's recital, he's equally at home with Clementi as he is with Chopin.
The program opened with "The White Peacock," a tantalizing piece by the American composer Charles Griffes. Griffes is one of many composers who was popular in his day but now has been all but forgotten. "The White Peacock" is an evocative piece that conjures up some exotic images through imaginative use of an expanded harmonic language.
After the Griffes, Smith moved on to an early work by Schumann, "Papillons," made up of a series of descriptive miniatures that explore a wide range of moods and feelings. Smith captured the spirit of each of these brief movements perfectly. The simple folk-song-like pieces were played delicately, while the brassy fanfare-like sections were robust and lively.
Clementi's Sonata in F minor, op. 13, no. 6, was also on the program. The music of this three-movement work is dark and somber throughout. The middle movement, "Largo e sostenuto," contains the essence of the entire sonata in its melancholic seriousness. And in spite of the clichd nature of much of the music in this work, there is still a sense of a large overall scheme here, and of an attempt at making a dramatic and profound musical statement.
The high point of the recital, however, was Chopin's Polonaise in F sharp minor, op. 44. This is a powerful piece that's charged with emotion and filled with anticipation and excitement.
One of the wonders of Chopin's music is how he creates his masterpieces out of small thematic ideas, building them into grandiose gestures that sweep the listener along. And this Polonaise is an excellent case in point. Chopin succeeds in writing a moving piece of music out of simple themes, which he contrasts with a disarmingly straightforward and lyrical middle section.
Smith ended his recital with three pieces by the Australian composer Percy Grainger. The first selection was a plain but touching arrangement of "Danny Boy." This was followed by "Blithe Bells," which in effect is a clever variation on Bach's "Sheep May Safely Graze." The final piece was "In Dahomey: Cakewalk Smasher," a medley of show tunes that were popular at the turn of the 20th century.