This weekend, an exquisite musical escape

At 8 p.m. tomorrow, a performance of fantasies at HCC


January 26, 2007|By Sarah Hoover | Sarah Hoover,special to the sun

The notion of fantasy doesn't play very well these days. We live in a culture that values the immediate, the here-and-now: Confessing to a rich fantasy life smacks of escapism. It is tantamount to a denial of reality. We prefer to call our fairy tales "reality shows," casting our imaginative riffs as "real" people in "real" situations.

But go back to the 19th century, and the inner life of the imagination holds much greater sway. An example of imagination's cultural prestige is the prevalence of the musical fantasy (also called a fantasia, Fantasie, or fantaisie). Evolving out of an earlier Baroque musical form based on the art of improvisation, the 19th-century Romantic fantasia is a freely structured, rhapsodic expression of intense inner emotional life.

Concertgoers will have an opportunity to hear a program of musical fantasies when pianist Anton Kuerti performs at 8 p.m. tomorrow at Howard Community College's Smith Theatre. The program will include Mendelssohn's Fantaisie in F-sharp minor, Op. 28, Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2, Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie, Op. 61, and two works by Schumann: the Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 and Toccata in C Major, Op. 7.

Mendelssohn's Fantaisie is distinctly improvisatory in character; sweeping scales and rippling arpeggiated passages burst forth with unleashed and turbulent energy. One hears that Mendelssohn was a fine pianist in this work's virtuosity. Also called the Scotch Fantasy, it was written soon after the composer's 1829 walking tour in Scotland. His experience with Scottish culture and landscape seems to have had a deep effect on him, offering the inspiration not only for this fantasy but also the better-known Hebrides Overture and third ("Scottish") symphony.

Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata also bears the subtitle "Sonata Quasi una Fantasia." It is a hybrid of the rigorously structured sonata and the looser, more spontaneous fantasy. The familiar first movement's somber character is highly unusual for the opening movement of a sonata, followed by a more traditional minuet in the second movement, and the kind of agitated presto finale so characteristic of Beethoven. The elements of fantasy, from inward contemplation to roiling passion, here permeate the sonata form.

In Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie, fantasy overcomes traditional form (here the Polish polonaise). From the opening notes - a pensive roaming through harmonically obscure territory - the listener recognizes that this is not your standard polonaise. As soon as the stately dance rhythm emerges, it is subsumed again under free-form musings. This work exemplifies Chopin's late style, one in which he experimented with greater structural and harmonic freedom.

The heart and center of Kuerti's performance likely will be the Schumann Fantasie in C major. This extended work in three movements, originally conceived as an homage to Beethoven, is a lengthy and personal outpouring of feelings for his beloved Clara Wieck (who later became his wife). Both ardent and intimate, the work can be understood as an impassioned love letter - Schumann told Wieck that her spirit inhabited every bar of the score. Although the composer originally called the work a "great sonata," its fluid structure allows great freedom for the expression of varied emotional experience.

With the manic perpetual motion of Schumann's brief Toccata in C major, the audience will be returned to the familiar hectic pace of 21st-century life after basking in the glow of the Romantic imagination. Flights of fancy will yield again to reality with this exuberant finale.

Kuerti brings considerable experience and expertise to the performance of this repertoire: a leading figure in Canadian cultural and political life, he has been widely praised for his mastery of the works of Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert and Scriabin. He has appeared with the Columbus and Toronto symphonies as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra. Last season, he performed recitals at the Caramoor and Lanaudiere festivals. Kuerti has recorded all of the Beethoven sonatas and concertos, as well as all of the Schubert sonatas and Brahms concertos.

Candlelight Concert Society's artistic director, Holly Thomas, is particularly awed by Kuerti's innate expressiveness, saying that "he makes music out of everything that he touches." Those looking for some exquisite musical escape this weekend would do well to attend Kuerti's performance.

Those interested in learning more about the music are invited to attend a preconcert talk by Hsien-Ann Meng from 6:45 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. in Montearbaro Recital Hall.

Tickets are $29 for general admission, $26 for senior citizens ages 60 and older, and $12 for full-time students to age 24. Information or tickets: Candlelight Concerts, 443-367-3123.

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