Piano recitals like this don’t come our way very often. Michael Kieran Harvey’s enthusiasm for Franz Liszt, and his revolutionary inspiration for new “music of the future” began when he was a young boy – a never-ending inspiration leading to this passionate two-night series. Harvey is one of Australia’s most exciting pianists. The program for Friday – Transcendental Etudes – had also included homages to Liszt by Johanna Selleck and from Harvey’s own Sonata No 6, Fitzroy Jazz 2. Tonight’s Saturday program, The Faust Legend, gave the listeners in the packed auditorium a two-hour transcendental experience.
As director, Harvey gave a perfect introduction to Liszt’s Faust Symphony, (1854), before playing a four-handed piano transcription with Timothy Young, describing Liszt, the man, the restless individual and visionary, curious about the human condition and a true influence on future generations of composers. From the opening bare, atonal theme we felt the depths of time – a sensitive, shadowy questioning phrase, using perhaps the new language of the tone row and serialism in music for the first time. Following this gentle questioning, both pianists united in explosive and athletic turbulence with cascading chromatic orchestral colours. In tonal, harmonious sections, changed timbres allowed an illumination of spirit, colour and light to allow a temporary contrasting sensuality to quell Faust’s demons. We admired the virtuosity and intense synchronisation of both pianists portraying Liszt’s wild nature and showmanship, with thunderous repetitive notes and extreme percussive pitches on the piano keys, which were shown no mercy under their flying fingers. The fortissimos produced were like no others.
The Australian National Academy of Music’s Artistic Director, Paarvali Jumppanen, took us to a fantasyland of colour, space and starry skies in a most individual and personal interpretation of En Reve (1885). Mephisto Waltz No 1 took us immediately into a tornedo of virtuosic scenes with much heat and passion. His fine lyricism emerged in a balletic waltz section, beautifully taking us to dazzling sequences of descending shimmering cadenza and trill passages, closing with a tumultuous climax in a brilliant flight of fancy.
Following an Interval with a complimentary and pleasing mulled wine, ANAM students took us to some of the imaginative and revolutionary works inspired by or paying homage to Liszt. Reuben Johnson chose two composers’ works: Two Elegies by Bartok (1908-09), and selections from Jatekok (Games) (1973) by Romanian composer Gyorgy Kurtag, who studied at the Liszt Academy of Music and worked at the Bartok Music School. Johnson showed he had fully explored the new world of altered scale patterns and folk music rhythms, maintaining the feeling of Bartok’s dark chords and expressive descending sorrowful two-note patterns. He prefaced Kurtag’s miniatures, described as “Homages”, which often use graphic notation, a musical joke, a gesture, fragments played with single notes and overtones, and unconventional finger techniques playing with the palm and much hand glissando effects. Colourful, delightful and refreshing in this journey of new music.
Matthew Garvie gave us a thoughtful description of Messiaen’s Canteyodjaya (1948), a piece based on Hindu rhythms, with a strong romantic melody over intricate drum rhythms. In a pristine and coherent performance, Garvie portrayed the elements he had referred to: repetitions with tiny additional rhythmic additions, and structural development with increasing and decreasing note values and specific duration and dynamics of certain pitches.
Berio’s challenging Sequenza IV (1965-66) was performed by Ronan Apcar, who delivered a tight portrait of the composer’s experimental work where piano clusters, fractured and scattered patterns and overtones bring electronic effects to mind. Tension and anticipation reigned as piano timbres were newly explored.
Quite contrasting was the next performance by Leo Nguyen, who gave Alban Berg’s Sonata No 1 (1910) a very smoothly flowing, expressive and emotional telling. Its single movement evolved with fluctuating tempos and dynamics, much gentle chromaticism, timeless whole-tone scale patterns and a wandering, searching tonality. Nguyen gently connected the moments of virtuosity and passion into a seamless romantic flow, focussing on achieving smooth rhythmic development. This was a very satisfying and beautiful performance.
Michael Kieran Harvey described his own composition, Toccata DNA (1993), as “humble musical offerings” and homage to the “great Liszt whose music and life gave me much consolation.” ANAM pianist Po Goh opened the piece with an open full palm striking notes slowly, producing a big sound as metallic timbres and extreme pitches were included in a wide vocabulary of flowing ideas. Rhythmically complex, virtuosic in design, powerful sustain and resonance fuelled a dramatic piece. At times the vision of Po Goh’s hands appeared blurred with his accelerating, repetitious fingerwork in this grand finale to a most exciting and freshly conceived homage to Liszt.
Julie McErlain reviewed “Liszt’s Lance into the Future” performed by Michael Kieran Harvey, Tim Young and ANAM pianists in the Rosina Auditorium, Abbotsford Convent on August 19, 2023.