The first half of György Sandor’s program at the 2004 Singapore International Piano Festival was a truly memorable combination of experience, understanding and tenacity. Works that he has played countless times before were presented with generous portions of artistic insight and freshness that can only come from performers of the first rank who continue their vocation as long as health, spirit and mind permit (cross-reference below).
Those lucky enough to hear Sandor’s work were rewarded with performances that, despite slight blemishes, went right to the heart and soul of their composers’ intent.
The opening movement of the sunny “Italian” concerto exuded a joie de vivre that drew knowing smiles and shared warmth from the devout listeners. This was achieved by letting the ideas fight for attention on their own merits, rather than resorting to the too common “play-the-tune-loudest” approach that is in favour with so many other practitioners who have yet to come to terms with the genius of counterpoint. Sandor’s ability to employ a bass line that always knew where it was headed should be emulated by “classical” and jazz keyboardists alike.
The poignant “Andante” was a miraculous coupling of flowing accompaniments and ariatic subtlety. Even the occasional “hesitato” only added to the magical effect, while the coda let our emotions down gently as we were carefully bid adieu.
Sandor let the music lead the heady spring of the “Presto.” He packed its working-out sections with excitement and verve, resulting in a somewhat “rough and ready” delivery but the sincerity of his unstoppable conviction was never in doubt.
The “Maestoso – Allegro” of Beethoven’s final sonata was a marvellous study of impassioned gruffness that could only have been improved if the exposition was repeated to better prepare the ear for the relentless drive and angularity of the development. How wonderful that so many young faces could be seen in Victoria Concert Hall, assimilating and savouring this model of concentration, which finally emerged into the major in welcome relief before the anchoring pedal tones drifted spaciously to the ceiling in further proof of Sandor’s special knowledge of this sublime movement’s secrets.
Then, the “Arietta”: so tender, so caring. How could this be bottled? Throughout, Sandor’s unerring simplicity produced a knowing understatement the likes of which has seldom been equalled and unlikely ever to be surpassed. The jazzy variations were celebrated with joy, then, like today’s modern jets, Sandor gradually piloted the music to the ground, effortlessly deploying music-box intimacy and shimmering trills, until all faded away—a double hurrah for both brilliant master and ardent disciple.
With a centenary of his own in sight, no one would have left the room disappointed if the concert had ended here. However, such were the strains and exertions of the Bach and Beethoven, it was not surprising that the considerable demands of the second part of the program frequently proved to be more of a challenge than could be met by an artist whose contributions to music began over seven decades ago.
Nevertheless, following the bonus of two encores the appreciative audience remained “after school” to hear an interview conducted by artistic director, Dr. Chang Tou Liang with Bartók’s finest student and proponent. Sandor’s comments on the state of contemporary music were particularly telling:
Question: Which young Hungarian composers do you admire?
Answer: I don’t know any!
Comment: Whether new music is very bad or very good, it always sounds strange.
Here’s hoping that Sandor will have many further opportunities of sharing his gifts and insights to those who realize that music is far more than a collection of notes, played in a specified manner. JWR