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Concert review: Pianist Eve Egoyan enchants across a wide range of musical metaphors

By Open Submission on April 27, 2013


This is a guest review by Toronto poet Aparna Halpé of pianist Eve Egoyan’s solo recital and launch of new album 5, a collection of posthumously discovered works by Ann Southam, at the Glenn Gould Studio on April 19:

Here is a performance that reminds you why Eve Egoyan holds the designation of Ambassador by the Canadian Music Centre. Described as a performer whose medium is the piano, Egoyan’s performance at the CBC’s acoustically volatile Glenn Gould Studio was a veritable tour de force in the range and metaphor of contemporary music written for the piano in Canada and abroad.

The performance included three Toronto premières, a North American and Canadian première respectively, and the world première of Ann Southam’s Returnings II (2010).

Egoyan begins the evening with a selection from Taylan Susam’s Nocturnes (2009).

The modal arc of this piece traverses the entire keyboard, note by isolated note.  The meditative questioning of this night music invites an almost existential concentration that immediately settles a restive Toronto audience into silence.

Egoyan sifts through the babble of the day, holding up a pristine thought up for momentary circumspection, only to let go as her right hand gifts the line of music to her left, and the Nocturne journeys further into depths of the piano.

Egoyan uses Susam’s work as a prelude to the differing textures and soundscapes of the three composers featured in the first half; each Nocturne wipes the listener’s aural slate, only to begin anew.

Piers Hellawell’s Piani, Latebre is a set of three radically pianistic works that play with the idea of the piano as an instrument, and the word piano as layered structure.

Adding the concept of the hiding-place to the piece, Hellawell offers an often rapturous exploration of the way a piano, as an instrument,  communicates mood and space to a listener.

Egoyan delivers the witty, parodic theatricality of the three voices that make up characters of Hellawell’s Etude, Impromptu and Ballade with pitch-perfect irony that never resorts to over-dramatic or sentimentally referential gestures.

The highlight of the evening is Canadian composer Claude Vivier’s Shiraz.

An homage to the Iranian city, Shiraz crashes in with raucous, cacophonous soundscapes reminiscent of Alberto Ginastera, only to give way to lyrical story lines that hint of orchards and nursery rhymes through lilting chordal patterns.

Egoyan’s performance is explosive, sweeping the audience with a fiendish energy and unrelenting drive, while turning in an instant, to the murmur of a mother’s voice or a swinging gate.

The first half concludes with Ann Southam’s Returnings II, a piece discovered after the composer’s death in November 2010.

Egoyan brings her unerring sensibility and majestic equilibrium to a piece that demands a rare emotional resilience in order to capture its unrelenting weave of sense and sensuality.

As simple as an all too familiar ritual between aging lovers, the two hands speak in character; the gentle chords of the right plead conversation with the casually sultry ostinato of the left. The listener slips into the twilight of a summer lullaby that seems, in its particular cadence, to belong quintessentially to Egoyan.

The evening concludes with Michael Finissy’s Skryabin in itself (2000-2008).

Part of a trilogy called Second Political Agenda, the piece is conceived as a picaresque exploration of all things pertaining to Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915).

Deftly negotiating Finissy’s commentary, including period response and rebuttal to Scriabin, Egoyan’s hands speak the stylistic vocabulary that is required to capture the nuance of this piece with astounding precision. But what lifts the piece out of parody is Egoyan’s unflinching offering of an emotional landscape that punctuates the referential with a questing vision that makes her arguably one of the finest contemporary artists out there today.

Aparna Halpé

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