Flashes of the ‘Velvet Touch’ at Newport Music Festival
By Channing Gray
The Newport Music Festival, the annual chamber music marathon set in the city’s lavish mansions, picked one of its own last night to open season number 40. Eduardus Halim, the Indonesian pianist who has appeared at many a festival, was back at The Breakers for an evening of Chopin and Liszt — a long evening of Liszt.
The rail-thin Halim, the last student of piano legend Vladimir Horowitz, spent an hour and 20 minutes making his way though Liszt’s Evenings in Vienna, a somewhat introspective meditative set of waltz- caprices that take their inspiration from music of Schubert.
Devoting half a program to Liszt isn’t the worst sin one could commit, but Halim might have picked an assortment of the composer’s music with a little more variety. There is a sameness to this rambling set of pieces that even Halim’s delicate touch couldn’t overcome. About halfway through it I found myself squirming.
Perhaps the audience felt that way, too, because they gave Halim a big hand before he finished the set, as if to say “Thank God it’s over.”
Still, there was some lovely playing to be heard. Perhaps out of deference to Schubert, Halim shied away from some of his more flashy writing. There were a few thundering moments, but those were offset by dreamy reveries quoting Schubert waltzes.
And Halim has a knack for his sort of music, for spinning out the poetic, lyrical line. Among the most satisfying of the group of nine pieces was the sixth, which opened with a roar then settled into a sweet little dance that repeats itself in a glittering variation on the theme. Here, Halim got to show off that velvety touch of his.
Halim used the sheet music for the Liszt, which is not unheard of, but usually not done in solo recitals. But for the second book off Chopin Etudes, which came after intermission, he had the music down cold.
These are not Chopin’s most beloved works, but the etudes, or studies, are ingenious, with each one zeroing in on a technical problem and working it to death.
The opening A-Flat Major, which is built on broken chords, glowed, and the fleeting F Minor that followed had a gossamer cast about it.
But it was in the Chopin that Halim began to push his sound, to punch at notes and distort the tone.
The Winter Wind, the most virtuosic of the set sounded bangy at times, and the ends of phrases were harshly clipped.
But the octave etude was thrilling, and the study in the thirds as smooth as you could wish for.
The festival continues tonight at The Breakers with the North American debut of 15-year-old Chinese pianist Wai Yin Wong, who won last year’s Horowitz Competition in Ukraine.
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Originally published by Channing Gray, Journal Arts Writer.
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