Weill Recital Hall,
March 2, 2017
Bartók – 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs, SZ.71 (1914-1918)
Four Old Sorrowful Songs
III. Poco rubato
V. Scherzo (Allegro)
VI. Ballade (Tema con variazioni)
Old Dance Tunes
X. L’istesso tempo
XI. Assai moderato
XIII. Poco più vivo – Allegretto
XV. Allegro – Più vivo – Poco più meno vivo
Schubert – Drei Klavierstücke, D. 946
Ernst von Dohnányi – Six Piano Pieces, Op. 41
Bartók – Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, Op. 20, SZ.74
(1920; Corrected by P. Bartók 2002)
I. Molto moderato
II. Molto capriccioso
III. Lento, rubato
IV. Allegretto scherzando
V. Allegro molto
VI. Allegro moderato, molto capriccioso
VII. Sostenuto, rubato
Schumann/Liszt – Transcription of Schumann’s Widmung
I’d like to harken back to another recent piano recital in Weill Hall, in which its fine Steinway was brought into a sound world quite different from those of Christina Kobb and Thomas Nickell, whom I heard play shortly before the artist in question—Terry Eder, a New York pianist who specializes in Hungarian piano music, beginning with Liszt, and including Dohnányi, Bartók, and Kodály.
Ms. Eder, who hails from Detroit, arrived at this place—rewarding for both herself and her audiences—by showing exceptional talent by the age of four. At sixteen she was awarded the Louise Smith Petersen Memorial Award and solo recital at the Detroit Art Institute and was a finalist in the Detroit Piano Technician’s Guild/Detroit Symphony concerto competition. She then studied at the Oberlin Conservatory and Indiana University School of Music, where she earned a Master of Music with Distinction. She won a research grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board that sponsored her year-long residency at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. There Ms. Eder specialized in twentieth century piano music by Hungarian composers, working under the tutelage of Zoltán Kocsis. This gave her an opportunity to learn Hungarian and to immerse herself in Hungarian culture and life. Hence it is no surprise that she has achieved wide recognition as a champion of Bartók and his countrymen.
This recital was a joy from beginning to end. The rich, large tone she produced never impaired clarity or the separation of voices and lines. She understands just how much pedal to use—an arcanum for many pianists today, but one which Hungarian pianists have long understood very well, from Bartók himself through Annie Fischer, Géza Anda, György Sándor, and Zoltán Kocsis.
The foundations of Ms. Eder’s program lay in Bartók’s deep relationship to Hungarian folk music. She told most of the story in two short sets of piano pieces: Bartók’s Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs of 1914-18, which are settings of songs he heard and recorded in the field, and his 1920 Eight Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs, in which he transformed the tunes and their rhythms fully into art music infused with his own character and that of his own time and place. While the Fifteen Songs are entirely pianistic, Bartók approached them in the modern way of the early twentieth century, basing them on accurate transcriptions and attempting to preserve the peculiarities of the peasant rhythms and harmonies—a far cry from the mediated treatments of the mid-nineteenth century, exemplified by Liszt and Grieg in their respective countries.
Wishing to avoid overtaxing her audience, she separated Bartók’s two sets with Schubert’s piano pieces, D. 946, which, like his monumental last piano sonatas, date from his final months, the intermission, and Ernst von Dohnányi’s seductive, serious, but not overly challenging Six Piano Pieces, Op. 41 of 1945. The concert closed with a friend we encountered only recently in Christina Kobb’s program, Liszt’s arrangement of Robert Schumann’s song, Widmung.
The Peasant Songs are very brief, many lasting less than a minute, so Ms. Eder deserves special praise for her ability to convey the often complex shifts of rhythm, color, and mood over a few measures. Bartók, in his sensitivity to the soulfulness of the original songs, as he heard them sung, distilled a great deal if life into these miniatures. This was fully alive for Eder, and she played them with a natural command of the idiom. The fullness and consistency of her tone did not prevent her from bringing out the many nuances of color and texture within each song. Ms. Eder cited the texts to the songs in her detailed and intelligent program notes, a helpful adjunct to her expressive playing.
In the Improvisations Bartók carried his tonal and harmonic palette further, into the realm of the intimately personal and the modern. Back in the day of vinyl records jacket designers were fond of putting works of Paul Klee on such music. This is one case where the images actually would evoke the infinite color, playfulness, and freedom of the music. I could hear the beginnings of Kurtág in these pieces, also very short, as well. The Improvisations, small in scale as they are, remain vast in concept and imagination. They are important works. Eder played them with absolute mastery.
Her approach to the Schubert Klavierstücke gave full due to the composer’s greatness in concept and dimension. Schubert was given to alternate work on four-movement sonata structures as well as freer forms, which can mean either an elaborate fantasy or a simple three-part song form, stretched beyond its traditional limits. In D.946 he tried expand the emotional scope of what is basically a short salon piece into something rich and poetic. In these, Eder’s solidity of pulse and clear differentiation of treble, midrange, and bass across the keyboard remained true to Schubert’s technique and style, while rendering them compatible with her Bartókian foundations. Both inhabited the same empire, in which tunes from Moravia, Styria, or Transylvania might be heard on the streets of Vienna.
Ms. Eder played the Dohnányi set with full awareness of their range of color and feeling, as well as respect for the composer’s fine craft. The Schumann/Liszt brought the recital to an impressive virtuosic close, back in a Romantic mentality, for which Dohnányi had such a strong nostalgic affinity, heightened, perhaps, by his reality as a refugee in Austria in the wake of World War II.
Terry Eder’s intelligence and the excellence of her playing are enough to make one want to hear her more often, but visits by representatives of the Hungarian tradition of pianism aren’t so very common, and we are fortunate to have one living and working in New York. I’m also happy to have been finally introduced to her concert series, Key Pianists, which she “conceived in order to fill a void in New York concert life: ‘Many wonderful pianists playing with wisdom, insight, sensitivity and beauty are not heard in New York. These stellar artists, as well as New York audiences, deserve an event to share this extraordinary music-making.’” This new concert series, now in its second season, will present pianists in repertoire of special significance to them. It will continue with Sara Davis Buechner, who travels widely, playing a diverse repertoire, with orchestra and as a soloist, as well as pursuing an active schedule as a teacher and editor. She will offer a most unusual program “exploring Japanese music and art, celebrating her 30 years as a Yamaha artist. It will include Yukiko Nishimura’s Ten Etudes, Kouji Taku’s Variations on a Theme of Poulenc, and Yoshinao Nakada’s Piano Sonata. Ms. Buechner also performs Histoires, Jacques Ibert’s 10 piano miniatures, to a choreographed realization by mime dancer and mask maker Yayoi Hirano.”