April 4, 2020

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Prodigious pianist doesn't disappoint

Young phenom leaves audience in awe

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/1/2011 (3369 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's hard to believe that Frédéric Chopin was a mere 20 years old when he composed the rhapsodic Concerto No. 1 in E Minor for Piano and Orchestra. Even harder to believe is that a 15-year-old pianist would be performing it all over the world nearly 200 years later.

That is just what Calgary-based musician Jan Lisiecki is doing. The talented youngster is leaving international audiences in awe everywhere he goes.

Wednesday night he packed Westminster United Church for his debut with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. The guest conductor was past MCO conductor Roy Goodman, currently principal guest conductor of the Auckland Philharmonia, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Väster�*s Sinfonietta (Sweden). Goodman prepared the concerto's arrangement and it was entirely satisfying. It managed to make a small orchestra sound full and strong.

Would the high school student live up to his billing as "one of the most sensational young artists to emerge in Canada in the past decade..." In a word: yes.

The tall, lanky Lisiecki strode onto the stage -- a poised young man with a head of wavy, flaxen hair. As the orchestra began its lengthy introduction, he sat with his arms hanging at his sides, looking relaxed as he absorbed the mood of the music.

Goodman gave the powerful opening good nuance and flow, his expressive hands reaping ardent playing from the orchestra. He has certainly retained his signature vigour and energy.

Lisiecki's prodigious artistic gifts were apparent immediately, as he displayed the contrasting power and delicacy dictated by the composer. The lyrical melodic line was simplicity itself, clear and unaffected -- truly lovely. His instinctive sense of rhythm translated into eloquent, flowing phrases.

Light, twinkling runs, extraordinary musicality and flawless technique made even the most complex of passages seem like a walk in the park. Lisiecki expressed palpable emotion without a hint of sappiness, bringing the true meaning of the music directly to the rapt listeners. The lyrical solo section, accompanied by a gorgeous cello line by Yuri Hooker, spoke to us with honest feeling, bittersweet, yet beautiful.

The Romanze was taken especially slowly. Lisiecki, eminently patient, made it unfold like a delicate flower. He has a true sense of beauty to be able to play like this. His graceful right-hand notes fell on our ears like tiny, poignant bells. Seamless phrasing and an innate sense of timing made this a gem.

The MCO dug right into the joyful Rondo, Lisiecki giving it plenty of bounce, in Polish folk dance spirit. This was a decidedly tempered version, not the utterly carefree fling some pianists adopt. There was an innocence and freshness to the movement that was entirely Lisiecki's own -- a wondrousness that was refreshing.

As his fingers blurred to the finish, the audience erupted in an immediate roar, jumping to their feet in a loud standing ovation. Lisiecki rewarded them with Chopin's Nocturne in C# Minor as an encore.

What an auspicious way to start off the MCO's new year.

gwenda.nemerofsky@shaw.ca

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