Hoang Pham writes that, in the recent Great Performers Concert Series concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre, pianist Paavali Jumppanen performed a program that flanked four beautiful miniatures by Sibelius with the first book of preludes by Debussy and the first sonata by Schumann…
Debussy’s pianistic writing by the time of composition of the Preludes is a rich accumulation of the styles of those famous composers before him, both in technique and spirit. The spirit of Chopin looms largely, especially in the atmospheric Footsteps in the Snow which brings together the elements of singing line and gradually shifting harmonies – two seemingly opposite entities that coexist and inevitably combine. The simplicity of this coexistence of musical elements and its subsequent complex mixing is at the heart of these Preludes. In What the West Wind has seen, the subtle exposition of characters and their climatic coming together creates a stormy virtuosic number in the style of Liszt’s Orage.
Jumppanen’s performance of the Preludes overall was admirable, at times, illuminating and humorous in the delivery of the plucky Minstrels which closed the first half of the concert. But one was left wanting more pianistic glory that would have further enhanced the performance. Audiences these days in our large recital halls sit far away from the action. Debussy’s faint shadows, inner melodic murmurs, repeated fragments, and the mixing of these need to appear in deep and dark shadows in our concert halls for us to feel the purpose and emotional force of their delivery – their vibrant projection by the pianist is crucial for them to really come to life. In The Submerged Cathedral, the spatial qualities, atmospheric stretch between super small and large, both in spirit and dynamics, present and past, all these quantitative and qualitative elements needed more sophisticated use of the sustain pedal as both a coloristic and virtuosic device to expand and project the character of the music in the large space.
After interval, four Sibelius miniatures were beautifully and lovingly performed and it is a pity we don’t hear this composer in his solo piano works more often in public here in Australia. The final piece on the program was the first piano sonata by Schumann. Jumppanen was once again admirable in this large four-movement work. The playing robust in the outer movements and he brought the same loving qualities to the slow movement and then a humorous delivery to the Scherzo. But once again, the performance needed more pianistic glory, not least in the gigantic coda that brings the entire work to a dazzling finish but also elsewhere.
In Jumppanen’s performance, the manic “Florestan” and dreamy “Eusebius” qualities were always dutifully presented but one felt that there was more lurking in the music within these moments and those between. At times, Eusebius rests with us as in the entirety of the second movement, at other times, he is in a constant struggle with Florestan as in most of the first and last … but what about the poetry of conversation between the two in the recitative of the Trio section in the third movement Scherzo? Here one feels that finally, they are in love! It would be selfish to want everything in a single performance and the performance here by Jumppanen was very fine indeed.
Hoang Pham heard pianist Paavali Jumppanen in the Great Performers Concert Series 2015 at the Melbourne Recital Centre, May 21, 2015.
Next in the series is Nikolai Demidenko.