Rimouski-native David Jalbert’s return to the Sean O’Sullivan Theatre for a solo recital as part of the Department of Music’s “Encore!!” series was an uneven affair. The highly varied program, like a CD sampler, showed many aspects of his extraordinary talent but failed to render a cohesive musical statement.
Without a doubt the highlight was Rzewski’s North American Ballad, “Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues.” Here, everything worked beautifully: the fiendishly relentless drive using both hands, fists and elbows was crafted with compelling conviction that drew the entire room into this unabashed social commentary; then the Gershwin-esque blues-proper was served up with panache and fervor that made me glad to hear of Jalbert’s plan to record it. That will be a CD not to be missed.
The evening began with a dissertation on why Beethoven is the “best composer” and Tchaikovsky a mere tune-smith. The many students attending were led somewhat astray when, to illustrate a point that should be left for individual decision, Jalbert compared the opening notes of the Fifth Symphony to the first theme of the B-flat Minor Piano Concerto and declaimed “Beethoven uses less [notes] to build his work.” But if he had compared introduction to introduction (the concerto uses a four-note “knock-on-the-door” prior to launching the themes) he might have come to a different conclusion.
And repeating the oft-quoted answer “Read Shakespeare’s The Tempest” recorded in Schindler’s account of asking the master what the annotation of the only D Minor piano sonata meant, did little to enhance our understanding of the music. Including this “fact” in the chatter is especially unwelcome considering that the source is as believable as the theatrical conceit of Salieri taking Mozart’s Requiem by dictation in Amadeus (cross-reference below).
Nevertheless, the reading had much to admire, particularly the clarity of the inner voices and surety of technique. But it lacked the bigger picture and subtext of inevitability that so wondrously lurks beneath the surface. The final movement, “Allegretto,” was clipped, nearly flippant with the final note of each phrase being chopped to the same length whether eighth or sixteenth. And the special magic of the brief forays into the subliminally rich E-flat went by unnoticed. Another time, perhaps, the “Tempest” will be found within.
John Corigliano’s “Fantasia” was an apt musical metaphor for the concert. It was given a committed, impassioned reading but its best compositional moments came in the quotes from Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The links in style and material to The Red Violin (cross-reference below), were fitting, but, inevitably, I kept waiting for the screen to lower and a film to begin.
The remaining works from Chopin, Fauré and Debussy demonstrated conclusively that Jalbert is well on his way to an important career. Clearly, the notes are no barrier, but—greedily now, as I can’t wait for the result—a true, consistent, at-will right-hand-legato would have moved all of these performances into the highest reaches of excellence. I know that level is possible: witness the answering, descending phrase near the opening of the second Nocturne, where truly heavenly lengths filled the arid room and our souls. Much more, please.
And in this age of niche marketing, talk shows, reality shows and tabloid sensationalism, couldn’t we leave all of that in the lobby? Does anyone really believe that revealing Debussy’s amorous conquests adds anything to our understanding and enjoyment of his craft? If we truly love our art, why not let it speak for itself? JWR