November 3, 2006
Some of the best music in Washington is now presented at "small" concerts held typically in an embassy or local church, locations that do not have concert hall acoustics and provide a level of intimacy impossible in a large concert hall. The most impressive series of such small concerts is unquestionably the Embassy Series so ably organized by Jerome Barry and Lisette Barry.
Friday evening local pianist Eric Himy organized a concert of mainly nineteenth century music to showcase a new Mason & Hamlin grand piano design, but really to showcase his own considerable virtuosity. In the Year of Mozart and at the Embassy of Austria it was inevitable that much Mozart would be offered, but the opening piece by Antonio Salieri seemed unnecessary, merely one more evidence of Himy's willingness to travel the globe and visit libraries to unearth or transcribe compositions suitable to his own ends. Mozart's Sonata in B-flat was played deftly, but the genius of Himy is not in performing Mozart.
With Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, Himy revealed his true talents: a prodigious muscular power and emotional forcefulness. Under Himy's hands, the variations were rapturously emotional, a veritable tidal wave of successive and rapidly altering emotions. The listener, knowing that by 1840 Schumann was displaying obvious signs of the mental instability that would require him to spend the final years of his life under institutional care, sensed a noble mind already being wrenched apart by competing emotions.
After a brief intermission during which the piano could be inspected, Himy presented the Washington premiere of Hommage a Mozart by Spanish composer Elisenda Fábregas as part of what he considered the duty to play "composers who are not decomposing." In truth, the piece offered little of Mozart except what was in the composer's mind.” The piece was interesting, but could hardly hold its own when surrounded by more spectacular works by Schumann and Liszt.
Two Liszt transcriptions of Schumann songs were impressive and beautiful, but Liszt's Don Juan Fantasy, in which Liszt turned Mozart into an apocalyptic composer, was ferocious evidence that Himy is fully equal to the demands of music composed by a man who was a legendary piano prodigy during his lifetime. The Liszt pieces would be well beyond the capabilities of most pianists, and even those pianists who might have the technical ability to play the notes would generally lack the confidence to give the piece the emotional grandeur that Himy seems to insert naturally into his playing.
Throughout the concert, Himy made graceful introductions of the pieces he would play, and warmed up during the evening to the evident admiration of his audience. Himy presented two encores, ending the concert with a sizzling Horowitz transcription of one of the most famous moments in the opera Carmen.
Stephen Neal Dennis