Festival Vancouver 2008

Sara Davis Buechner, pianist
Wednesday, 6 August 2008 @ 5.30 pm • Christ Church Cathedral

Reviewer J H Stape

The performer's programme notes talk of this hour-long concert in the Festival Piano Passions series as "a musical party with friends" -- a gathering of composers known personally by her. She proved a perfect hostess, so much so that the audience, rare at this kind of intimate event, not only gave her a standing ovation but cries of "Encore" also rang out in the staid setting. This was a concert, indeed.

The opening three pieces -- the world première of Stephen Chatman's Mountain Spirit, Dorothy Chang's Elegy for Daisy (2004), and Ray Green's Festival Fugues (1949) -- were the more "serious" fare.

The last two, eight pieces from Joaquín Nin-Culmell's Danzas Cubanas (1985) and Four Foxtrots, arrangements by Ms Buechner of Gershwin and two other Tin Pan Alley composers, Jesse Greer and Dana Suesse, were a no-holds-barred close.

Chatman's Mountain Spirit, inspired by a Lawren Harris painting, was a riff on mountain power, not mountain glory or mountain prettiness, with force and latent violence to the fore, as a tranquil misty opening quickly built to forte and remained there. Dorothy Chang's brief introspective elegy was an intense study in quiet wistfulness, flecked with a sorrow that had been understood and tamed.

The five short pieces making up Ray Green's Festival Fugues were an excursion into counterpoint in the modern idiom, running from a boldly witty and technically daunting Prelude to a "Jubilant Fugue" that was a jokey, sassy tribute to popular sources, with Gershwinsque rumblings.

The exquisite Danzas by Nin-Culmell, all in minor keys, were all Latin colour: vibrancy jostling with gentle Spanish melancholy, the formal elements of several dance forms explored with sophistication and immense charm.

These were a good lead-in to the closing foxtrots, by turns jaunty and assured pieces that mixed popular with "high" culture, in transcriptions that were technically stunning, and played with panache. The snappy rhythms and dazzling pianism almost had the audience -- and there ought to have been a standing-room-only house for this consummate artist --dancing in the aisles.

And with reason, for the playing throughout was exquisite: diamond-sharp in attack, genial, technically flawless and imbued with an obvious love of the art being conjured. This was, quite simply, music-making at its most compelling.

And what can you say of a pianist who announces that an encore is "just the delay before the first martini." Her "delay," a generous gesture given the real workout she had just completed, was dedicated to Vancouver musical legend Dal Richards, present in the audience: Gershwin's "The Man I Love."

© 2008 J H Stape