By Ted AYALA
Opening a recital with Beethoven’s penultimate essay in piano sonata form – the 31st in A-flat – can either be a sign of brash, self confidence or very poor judgment. Beethoven’s late works, seemingly at a remove from earthly concerns and inhabiting a visionary, spectral world, demands not a mere virtuoso, but a sensitive musician of questing intellect able to span late Beethoven’s moods and lines, which the composer pushes nearly to the breaking point. From the very first chords that sounded from his piano, one was immediately assured that Harout Senekeremian was just such a musician.
Not that he isn’t a formidably equipped virtuoso of the keyboard. Beethoven demands of his musicians that they be both poet and preacher, able to keep their virtuoso machinery in check.
Senekeremian was fully up to the music’s stringent demands, with playing that was rapt and appropriately introverted when needed, but surging with power when needed. The scherzo’s complex rhythms were easily untangled by Senekeremian, unleashing pealing chords that thundered through Glendale’s Presbyterian Church.
But the real test came in the sonata’s closing Arioso, blending world-weary lyricism with a ferocious fugue teeming with vitality and life energy. This was Senekeremian’s finest moment in the recital. Fused here were both virtuoso and philosopher, mixing easily the one with the other. Senekeremian brought the utmost in clarity to Beethoven’s sometimes gnarly counterpoint, wringing from it the deep sorrow and worry that troubled Beethoven’s spirit in his final years.
The rest of the recital threw the spotlight on Senekermian as virtuoso with splashy works by Scriabin, Babadjanian, Kapustin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff, and Glendale’s own George N. Gianopoulos.
Amongst all these works, Gianopoulos stood tall–even taller than some of its recital mates on the program. His Theme and Variations was another glimmering chip from this master’s work-bench. There is in Gianopoulos’ music something delightfully cosmopolitan, yet wonderfully homespun. Fusing together a kind of Rachmaninoff-meets-Tin-Pan-Alley sensibility by way of Van Dyke Parks, it was further proof that Gianopoulos is one of Southern California’s most important emerging composers. The warm applause that met the work, with the composer himself there to receive it, were richly deserved.
Stunning too were the handful of Rachmaninoff preludes selected by Senekeremian. The blistering clip with which he took Rachmaninoff’s G-minor prelude, with its pounding polonaise rhythms in the left hand, and gleaming octaves were breathtaking in his hands. Even at his rapid pace, there was no sense of strain on Senekeremian’s part. His playing was marked throughout by nuance and shading in the very best of the Romantic piano tradition, as well as by steely precision.
The various works by Scriabin, Babadjanian, and Kapustin, emerged with chrome-plated sheen in the hands of Senekeremian. Though the music was sometimes of variable quality, so compelling was Senekeremian’s musicianship that one shared his commitment and fervor for the music, leaving the listener enraptured.
He closed off the program with Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli, tossing roulades of piano arabesques and glittering scales in his wake, and leaving his audience absolutely won over.
What this musician can do with piano works by Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, or Shostakovich would be something I would love to hear some day. There is a lot of hype in the classical music world today, with pretty faces continuously being pushed as the next big thing. But Senekeremian’s sound musicianship speaks for itself, without need for sideshow antics. Clearly a pianist to watch–and one already superior to many “big names” of today that you can think of.