Jon Kimura Parker at St. Mark’s Anglican Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake. Friday, April 8.
Friday was the day that everyone seems to forget happens every year in this part of the world: the obligatory, but nonetheless horrifying April snowfall. The other was a Springtime appearance by Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. But the two forces of nature happening on the same day proved to be a fateful coincidence.
Let me explain. Much like that first spring flower bravely peeking up from below the barren soil, Jackie Parker was there to deliver warmth on a day when we needed it the most.
The program was divided into two parts: The first was devoted to Rachmaninoff and Beethoven; two composers who were also great pianists. The second was a collection of curious favourites by Parker, including works by Alexina Louie, Ravel, and two especially odd Hollywood inspired works by Parker’s friend and colleague William Hirtz.
Before we drive too far down the road, let’s talk about the perils of opening a concert with the Rach. Even if they are just Preludes, it is ill-advised for many reasons — the most important being that it requires a warming up, not only of the pianist but the listener as well. But in Parker’s hands the three Preludes, particularly the B-flat, made a stunning example of the Russian style, and a convincing argument that Parker can get away with breaking this rule anytime he likes.
All this cleared the way for the “Appassionata”: a rich red meat dish that resulted in one audience member fainting in the back. Beethoven can be dangerous for the unprepared listener, and I think everyone felt like we had swallowed something slightly dangerous. Like much of his playing, Parker has panache backed by a perspective informed by an astute understanding of the psychological subtext of Beethoven’s masterwork. It was the highlight of the evening.
All these left appetites in position for an intermission wine tasting (this is Niagara-on-the-Lake after all). It did a clever job of loosening the audience up for the oddities that followed. But in between was Parker’s famous banter — which is the best in the business.
Parker explained that he had just purchased a Fit Bit, a special device that allows the tracking of the number of steps he takes throughout the day. He decided to wear it during the concert as an experiment. The result clocked in at 9300 steps – or about 500 calories after the marathon Rach.
The calories continued to burn with Louie’s Scenes from a Jade Tree, which Parker played with a musical curiosity that felt infectious.
Parker’s take on Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau”, was technically impressive but craved more rubato (tempo variation) and further pedaling to encourage the blending of colours in the arpeggiated harmony.
Next were two oddball works by William Hirtz that paid homage to classic Hollywood film music. The first, titled “Bernard Herrmann Fantasy”, was a confluence of technicolor themes from North by Northwest and Psycho, all strung together as a kind of movie theatre popcorn garland. It was an interesting effect that gave the impression of watching a movie trailer on fast forward. The “Wizard of Oz Fantasy” was even more delightful. It clicked its ruby shoes together, bringing the audience straight into to the land of Oz.
I should mention the acoustics of St Mark’s were a real surprise. Churches are known for their excessive reverb that can either flatter or hinder a performance. Here, a handsome Yamaha CFX, was heard warm, close, and detailed. This venue would be an ideal location for a recording.
It’s hard to think of a better ambassador for classical music than pianist Jon Kimura Parker, and this early spring visit was a welcome reminder.
Parker will be performing next at Koerner Hall with his Montrose Trio on Friday, April 28. Don’t miss it.
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