Classical The winning touch of a consummate artist

The winning touch of a consummate artist

This year’s Standard Bank Young Artist for Music, the unassuming, friendly and engaging Ben Schoeman, delivered an astonishing first of two solo recitals. Here is a pianist that engages directly with the soul of the music while communicating the sheer joy of music-making. Schoeman traverses a wide range of styles with ease and immediately situates himself within a new and concentrated artistic sound-world, a truly remarkable feat for such a young artist.

From the commanding flourish of the opening mordent, Schoeman displayed his musical confidence and consummate artistry in an astounding interpretation of Bach’s Toccata in C minor, where the polyphonic strata were clearly delineated and finely etched, contrapuntal voice leading emerged from the translucent texture. Ebullient rhythmic projection propelled the ever-changing expressive landscape.

In South African composer Stefans Grové’s piano fantasy Nonyama, the Ceremonial Dancer, Schoeman demonstrated his mastery over finely etched dynamic contrasts, evocatively shaped nuances and a variety of touch articulations. This work which seeks to synthesise western compositional language through interspersing snatches from African song and interlocking rhythmic cycles, with modernist clusters and meaningful use of harmonics is, in my opinion, an ill-fitting blend that leaves the performer without a secure base from which to form an interpretation.

Franck’s Prelude, Choral et Fugue allowed Schoeman the scope to successively pile carefully crafted phrases amidst the score’s lush texture and rich harmonic palette without the thematic focus becoming undimmed. The suppleness of Schoeman’s forte tone production was especially admirable in this performance.

Schoeman’s performance of Grieg’s Sonata in E minor received a rapturous reception. This interpretation combined a symphonic conductor’s bird’s-eye-view of the score with meticulous attention to detail, each phrase sweepingly communicated with orchestral-styled panache. Here Schoeman was able to give full rein to his musical imagination and extraordinary aptitude to intelligently communicate musical ideas with the audience. His ability to draw a plethora of sound possibilities from the piano is laudable.

The recital concluded with seven trifles from the pen of Percy Grainger. Notwithstanding Schoeman’s facility in negotiating Grainger’s technical difficulties with consummate ease, and capacity for capturing the improvisatory foundation inherent in each work’s conception, I feel that these pieces should remain buried in grandma’s piano stool. Their musical value is limited; the composer’s imagination appeared to be restricted to empty repetitions, and their sound is unmistakeably dated. Schoeman played each work with polish and finesse though I believe his talent would have been better served if he had brought a more substantial work to bear.

Nonetheless this was a remarkable performance from an outstanding performer; a true ambassador of classical pianism and a very worthy bearer of the Young Artist Award.

Ben Schoeman Piano Recital 2 is at the Beethoven Room today at 7pm

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