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Eric Friesen ('S Series' curator) and Jan Lisiecki (pianist), Photo by Jan Richards

Toronto Concert Reviews in Toronto

Last night’s concert by Canadian mega-star pianist, Jan Lisiecki, marked the end of the summer series of Studio-S, the solo concerts curated by Eric Friesen at the 1000 Islands Playhouse in Gananoque. Friesen, a long-time CBC broadcaster and writer, has been host to great classical musicians from around the world for each of the past seven years. He has a special talent for humanizing the concerts with anecdotes and humour in his introductions and interviews with the artists. 

The concert was the most highly anticipated of the season as attested to by the full house in a theatre that is usually the home of theatrical productions. Jan Lisiecki has burst onto the world-stage and is one of the most sought after pianists of the millennial generation. At age 21, he has broken through to international stardom. In 2016 alone, his engagements will have included stops in Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, France, Poland, Scotland, England, USA, Austria, Korea, China, Luxembourg, Spain and of course, Canada. The audience was fully aware of the privilege of hearing such an illustrious artist.

Lisiecki did not disappoint. The opening deliberate chords of J.S. Bach’s Partita for Keyboard No. 2 in C minor BWV 826 with their riveting tension and drama convinced any doubters that this would be a very special performance. The remainder of the ‘Sinfonia’ section of the Partita contradicted the usual sentiments of a minor key in the spirited interpretation of Bach’s two-part counterpoint. The succeeding movements, each with their individual character were performed convincingly with clarity, energy and passion.

The two Rachmaninov works to follow, Elegie in E flat minor Op. 3 No.1 and the famous Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 3 No 2, were in striking contrast to the Bach. Here the thunderous octaves, rich textures and soaring melodies filled with longing and melancholy, allowed Lisiecki to display both a warm and soulful approach to this late-romantic music. Only a full-size grand could have filled the air with any more sonorous beauty.

Lisiecki with his Polish roots, has an affinity to Chopin seldom heard. In the Scherzo No.1 in B minor, Op. 20 and Nocturne in C-minor Op 48. No 1 he was at his best. It was as if he was experiencing Chopin’s pain and nostalgia for his homeland. The Scherzo combined a frenzy of passionate despair with the wistfulness of a Polish children’s carol. One could hardly believe that we were listening to Lisiecki’s first performance of this work. The Nocturne was equally compelling. The downward spiral of the opening phrases gave an ominous tone to this tragic work. Lisiecki brought us into a sense of foreboding and had us holding onto our seats with the anguish expressed in the music.

The program concluded with three of the Four Impromptus Op. 142, D.935 by Franz Schubert. The work was quintessential Schubert. The first movement lifted our spirits with the delightful theme played with the left hand alternately above and below the broken chords of the right hand. Similarly, in the second Impromptu, the simplicity of its folk melody had a delicate charm that carried into the trio section with its triplet motif. The program ended with the dazzling fourth Impromptu. Each interval between the rondo’s rhythmical theme became increasingly more elaborate with its scale passages until the syncopated octaves led to the sudden and dramatic descending scale ending on a final low F. Lisiecki performed with brilliant artistry.

Not only was this a concert of great music by an impeccable artist, but we saw Jan Lisiecki as a person very comfortable with the audience, able to poke fun at himself and play along with the interesting conversation of the interview. The concert more than lived up to the anticipation we had sensed as we entered the hall. The audience was wowed and then rewarded with an encore performance of Schumann’s Reverie. One audience member later compared it to a performance of Arthur Rubinstein’s that she had attended some fifty years ago.

Lisiecki will next be performing at the Stratford Summer Music Festival on Friday August 26th and Saturday August 27th. Other future engagements in Ontario will include performances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on February 15th and 16th 2017 as well as a solo performance in Kingston on February 19th 2017.

Review by David Richards
Gananoque ON, August 23 2016

Jan Lisiecki wows the audience in Gananoque with superb pianistic skills and artistry!