Tuesday , April 16 2024
Pianist Kariné Poghosyan
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Concert Review (NYC): Pianist Kariné Poghosyan, “All That Jazz” – Gershwin, Ginastera and More

Armenian pianist Kariné Poghosyan is one of those crowd-pleasing young soloists who travel with a pop-star aura. Enthusiastic fans filled Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on Valentine’s Day for Poghosyan’s sold-out “All That Jazz” concert. They heard muscular renditions of 20th-century piano music by a number of composers, culminating in George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.”

The unifying theme was the relationship of this concert music to jazz. Sometimes it was obvious, as with the “Rhapsody.” In other cases it was more subtle or implied. But the selections all drew powerful, spirited performances.

Ginastera, Coleridge-Taylor, Babjanian

The concert began with Alberto Ginastera’s difficult Piano Sonata No. 1. Poghosyan played the opening “Allegro marcato” with a kind of lyrical fury. Affirmatively accented blue notes helped establish the jazz connection. Refreshingly spare use of the sustain pedal brought clarity to the music and revealed the pianist’s sparkling technique, which she demonstrated again in the racing gestures of the snaky “Presto misterioso.”

The haunting slow movement opens with a solemn left-hand arpeggio and unites jazzy harmonics with Chopin-esque flourishes and bright octave melodies. The crowd-pleasing finale with its alternating 6/8 and 3/4 rhythms, slammed repeated notes, and stormy cross-hands passages was thoroughly convincing in Poghosyan’s turbocharged performance.

Two selections from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Three-Fours offered a night-day contrast, both played with deep feeling. No. 2 had a nocturne sound and a Schubertian glow, No. 3 a rising-sun feel with a fluid tempo. (Poghosyan performs the whole set on her latest album, Folk Themes.)

She raised the energy again with “Tumbao” by Tania Léon, strongly articulating its shimmering, playful staccato passages and ending with a flourish on an orchard of tone clusters.

George Gershwin postage stamp

Five short works by Armenian composer Arno Babjanian elicited a variety of colors and touches and some glorious playing: sensitive, romantic, with a hint of Brazilian rhythms; serial hijinks; elegaic, songlike, regretful; and suggestions of Asia or the Middle East in the captivating “Dance of Vagharshapat.”

A Century of “Rhapsody in Blue”

All this led to a performance of Rhapsody in Blue” that was not quite as satisfying. While Poghosyan played with conviction and flair, rhythmic integrity sometimes suffered amid quirky expressive choices, and extreme speed led to slight sloppiness. Sometimes soloists seek to infuse an iconic piece of music with idiosyncrasies as a way to claim it for their own. There seemed to be a bit of this here, and it’s really not necessary – especially in the jazziest piece of a program devoted to jazz influences.

A delicious encore came in the form of the Aram Khachaturian “Toccata,” a favorite of mine. In my piano-student days I regularly banged it out as an adolescent-frustration release. But with the Gershwin still in my head, I noticed for the first time figurative similarities between the Khachaturian and the now hundred-year-old “Rhapsody in Blue.” No doubt inspired by a common heritage and her extensive academic study of the composer, Poghosyan was at her very best playing this rhythmic showpiece with vivid color and obviously authentic passion.

About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Music, where he covers classical music (old and new) and other genres, and Culture, where he reviews NYC theater. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he is on a mission to visit every park in New York City. He has also been a part-time working musician, including as lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado.

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