When pianist Stephen McIntyre walked on stage for his recital “Music for Isolation”, the sight of his beret would have made his audience smile – was it the touch of informality in concert presentation, the practical need for warmth on a wintry night, the suggestion of his fondness for the European, Basque or French culture, or just his favourite hat? Sharing his personal sentiments for choosing the program, some old works, some new, works which he had found most meaningful during isolation time, McIntyre amiably welcomed us into the intimate and spiritual world of the solo pianist.
The opening bars of Albeniz’ Evocacion (from Iberia) took us immediately to the calm, shadowy beauty of the piano’s lower registers, where the well-emphasised, almost Neopolitan operatic style melody created a languorous and tender atmosphere. McIntyre cast a spell on the listener with this heartfelt journey from its introspective, broody beginnings to a rise to the piano’s higher register with softer, but melodically sparkling, spacey, distant chords. Dreamy, but with purpose, nostalgic but exultant in its one central climax, this is a most challenging work for the piano. Although composed in the rarely seen key of Ab minor (7 flats), McIntyre mastered this piece with ease. We felt the elements of the southern Spanish fandango and the northern Spanish song, we were touched by McIntyre’s tonal expression and we sighed deeply with the final suspended pppp extremely pianissimo Ab major chords.
Haydn’s Variations in F minor were played with exquisite detail, as McIntyre gracefully highlighted the contrasting musical elements of the major and minor key variations expressing those universal feelings of our isolation – melancholy and fortitude, sadness and hope, resignation and resilience. He showed much ease, fluency, vitality and clarity with the lighter ornamentations and shimmering virtuosic runs, which blossomed in the major key variations. There was an inherent sadness in the insistent dotted rhythms of the theme, made more profound when heard in the bass, before dissolving to just a slow repeated fragment of a gentle but ominous low drum beat with an imitative dotted rhythm floating in the high register. In our isolation I wonder if other listeners shared my tears.
McIntyre is a marvel at making the simplest of melodic phrases speak with colour, eloquence and substance. Galuppi’s Sonata in C major joyfully revealed the composers’ Venetian bel canto vocal style, with its sweet and seductive calming classical lines. We welcomed the sunshine, serenity and the elegance of this fresh and joyful music. In keeping with the theme of the program, but contrasting in texture and intensity, was a selection of four short pieces by Brahms from his later period – Op. 117, 118, 119. Passionate, but never dark and despairing, these pieces flowed with ease and expression, a further example of McIntyre’s musical authority and his innate ability to share the intimacy, soul and stirring expression of these very beautiful shades of sound. Chords were clean, strong and hopeful, rising with much energy following the pensive and reflective warm melodic phrases typical in these monologues.
McIntyre is a wonderful educator. His warm words of introduction to his chosen repertoire was informative, friendly and would surely have encouraged many of us to research and learn these lesser known gems played this evening. He confessed to recently learning the 1st movement only of Chopin’s late masterpiece – Sonata in Bm Op 56 – Allegro maestoso. Most remarkable is McIntyre’s relaxed but disciplined and quite affable composure at the piano, as he communicated so much warmth and ease in this concert. Immense power seems to come by magic just from his fluent, virtuosic fingerwork. With a highly emphasised theme, this movement told a huge story and took us to another place. Can we hope to hear the whole sonata next time?
In this time of isolation, many of us would be feeling nostalgia for countries visited, and sadness for the journeys, dreams and plans now forfeited. McIntyre chose Busoni’s All’Italia (To Italy) as a way of sharing his fondness for the country where he studied for three years and still visits regularly. This exuberant and showy work was modestly controlled as virtuosic arpeggios in both hands flew up and down the keys. Chords and dynamics expanded upwards as increased energy and bravura led us to a central section where we were teased with a lightly skipping rhythm, suggestive of a tarantella, or were those melodic snatches quotes from the patriotic marching song Bandiera Rossa?
While not a household name like Chopin and Liszt, their contemporary, Alkan, was considered a great pianist and composer in his time, writing music that looks impossible to play. McIntyre chose Etude de Virtuosite, Op 31, a piece he described as being possible for “mere mortals.” This technically demanding piece was an extroverted, showy, perpetual motion affair that took us into a new world.
We applauded Stephen McIntyre for his inspirational program.
Julie McErlain reviewed Stephen McIntyre’s piano recital “Music for Isolation” presented by Melbourne Digital Concert
Photo of Stephen McIntyre supplied.