THE PIANO RECITAL – ENDANGERED SPECIES
I knew Eric Himy’s recital for Hemet Community Concert Association (2-25-07) would be good, but even I was very surprised by how good it was! He started the program with remarks about how the piano recital is an endangered species, then proceeded to demonstrate that, at least in his talented hands, it is alive and kicking!
Himy is a specialist in the Romantic art of transcription, following the tradition of such legends as Liszt, Busoni, Horowitz and Earl Wild. He opened with two “aperitifs”: his own transcription of a beautiful aria by the unfairly maligned Antonio Salieri, which left us all sighing, and a colorful performance of Schumann’s Arabesque. Then he paired another of his own transcriptions, Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun by Debussy, with Ondine from Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. Sometimes transcriptions can be pale versions of the source material, but his Debussy had all the warm sparkle and languid shadows one wants to hear in this music. And Ondine was spectacular – I can hardly find the words to describe the lightness of touch, the range of dynamics, the beauty of tone, all painting a vivid portrait of this archetypal water-nymph.
Continuing his well-planned program, he presented two pieces inspired by the underworld: the Sgambati transcription of a melody from Gluck’s opera Orfeo, which made one forget that a singer usually articulates this aching melody; and a bone-rattling, breath-taking performance of the Danse Macabre by Saint-Säens, in the Liszt/Horowitz transcription. This made our audience leap to their feet, hooting and cheering as if on a roller coaster! The generous first half ended with Earl Wild’s brilliant transcriptions of five beloved Gershwin songs, played with the panache and wit they deserve but don’t always receive.
After intermission, Himy focused on two composers, Chopin and Liszt, demonstrating the many different aspects of these two giants, from lyrical to histrionic, angelic to demonic. The Chopin Nocturne Op. 27 no.2 was poetry with muscle; whereas the Ballade no.1 in g minor was my personal favorite of the afternoon - all I can say is that it transported me as if I were hearing it played by the composer himself. The Liszt pieces, Liebesträume and Mephisto Waltz, in danger of being overly familiar, were played with a fresh approach and honest respect for this composer’s unique genius. Another standing ovation ensued, again with loud cheers.
Throughout the recital, Himy’s articulate, clever remarks led us into the music, enhancing even the connoisseur’s appreciation. And there were many such in the audience, all marveling at his astonishing technique and musicianship – I heard remarks about his perfect passage-work, “like pearls”; his control of dynamic and tempo extremes, while still taking the risks that can thrill an audience; his beautiful tone quality throughout; subtle voicing and skillful use of the pedals; his obvious joy in performing. And all of this in complete service of the music!
Encores were demanded, which he generously provided: Ravel’s Habanera, DeFalla’s Ritual Fire Dance and Träumerei by Schumann. This last piece was always Horowitz’s final piece in his recitals, and I loved how this fit so neatly with the overall theme of the program. (I hasten to mention that this connection is my own - Himy was too modest to mention it!).
Over 50 CDs were sold, even though he didn’t actually have any with him —he had sold out earlier on his tour. He generously offered to send them at no extra cost, with autographs.
In the two weeks since this recital, HCCA has heard raves from countless people who were in that audience, to the benefit of our association. And we will most definitely invite him back to perform again, as soon as we can!
I have been privileged to hear many great pianists in my life — Rubinstein, Horowitz, Arrau, DeLarrocha, Brendel, Iturbi, Ax, Barenboim, Serkin, Argerich, to name a few — and I place Eric Himy among that company. This was an unforgettable recital - long may it live!
President - Hemet Community Concert Association