September 23, 2008

Young Pianist Brings Audience to Its Feet

By Garaud MacTaggart

Once again a brilliant young classical pianist has visited Buffalo for a recital courtesy of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society as part of its "Gift to the Community" series of free concerts.

In a program of music that covered three centuries, the 22-year- old Jean-Frederick Neuburger displayed the kind of technique that helped him win, place or show in a variety of prestigious European and American piano competitions.

His technical prowess was frequently paired with solid insights into the music that went beyond mere note-spinning, but there were also moments when it seemed more important to place his digits in the right place without regard to the interpretive nuances that could be brought to the material by virtue of life's experiences. Still, the audience rewarded him with three standing ovations during the program and three more after a well-deserved trio of encores.

Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata in E minor" (BWV 914) was the first piece played by Neuburger, and it was a showcase for finger positioning, but there wasn't anything that listeners could hang their emotional hats on. It was an impressive exhibition of dexterity, but the pianist's tempos left little room for the kind of emotional impact hinted at by the score.

Things were better in the three Frederic Chopin works that followed, but there were still spots where the swift-flowing transitions between the composer's manic and expressive states (especially in the Opus 20 "Scherzo") clanked into place instead of rising as part of an organic whole. This was apparent in how Neuburger took on the crushing chord that leads into the final emotional upheavals with little of the suspenseful foreshadowing a more intuitive pianist would have built into the performance.

Neuburger's take on the next to last of Chopin's "Nocturnes" (Op. 62, No. 2) featured some of the pianist's most felicitous playing, as did his rendition of the "Heroique Polonaise," the first piece in the program that engendered a standing ovation.

The first half of the concert ended with an impressive solo piano version of Maurice Ravel's "La Valse" that showcased Neuburger's grasp of the composer's approach to tonal color. And then there was another standing ovation.

After the intermission, the third of Johannes Brahms' piano sonatas filled out the balance of the program with the kind of artistic heft that demands much of the performer, and, for the most part, Neuburger was impressive enough to warrant all of the applause the audience was willing to heap on him.


>Concert Review

Jean-Frederic Neuburger

Sunday in Mary Seaton Room of Kleinhans Music Hall.

Originally published by NEWS CONTRIBUTING REVIEWER.

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