Robert Silverman: 70th Birthday Concert

Date and Venue Sunday, 25 May 2008 @ 3 pm | Telus Studio The Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Haydn Sonata No. 62 in E-flat major Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue Brahms Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5 Liszt Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto

Reviewer J H Stape

One customarily receives presents on one's birthday. Robert Silverman, known for his wit and originality, turned the tables, offering one -- no, several -- to the sold-out house that had gathered on a sunny afternoon to mark his achievement of three score and ten years.

Generously conceived and finely executed, the gift took the form of a concert shot through with musical intelligence, warmth of tone in the playing, and a display of pianism in the grand tradition.

The opening sonata was standard issue Haydn: charming, burbling where it should be, and ever aware of the Smile of Reason. The Classical period, for all Silverman's dedication to it (there's a lot of Mozart to his credit), has never quite been his natural territory in the way that the Romantics are and remain. The Haydn came off as somewhat overly Romantic, with perhaps a bit too much pedal in evidence, a fault of the modern piano and obvious in so much Mozart playing these days.

With the sublimely beautiful Franck Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, Silverman hit his stride -- and never left it. He offered a towering performance of characteristic elegance and immense polish, caressing out the details -- a Silverman hallmark -- and delivering a highly compelling and nuanced interpretation.

The Brahms was, so to call it, the afternoon's main course: large scale, demanding technically and interpretively, and it was played as if to the manner born.

The opening Allegro maestoso lacked nothing in majesty and sweep, with the next movement, the Andante, paying strict heed to the marking expressivo. The Intermezzo was played with a delicacy of touch that was no less than astonishing, Silverman achieving a gossamer effect and sheen, and the Finale, vintage Brahms in its overpowering size and ambition, was splendidly rendered.

Any young pianist would have been happy to stop there, but the "Concert Paraphrase on Rigoletto" with its manifold intricacies and technical challenges proved too tempting, and Silverman caught brilliantly both its arch playfulness and its lyricism in a bravura performance of a self-consciously bravura piece.

Warmth overflowed in the ringing applause, with the audience, by then on its feet, spontaneously breaking into a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday," to be followed by yet another present from the stage: a finely wrought encore in the form of Liszt's Sonetto del Petrarca No. 123, during which the shade of that great Lisztian the late Jorge Bolet must have hovered genially and approvingly.

And if music weren't enough, yes, there was cake, ending a festive and celebratory afternoon, remarkable for the unstinting warmth and generosity flowing from the keyboard, with the warmth flowing back, and proper due paid to musicality of the highest order.

All told, this was a very happy birthday, indeed, celebrating a man and career whose contribution to the cultural life of his adopted city ought to be celebrated with a civic medal -- not that he's the type for those kinds of honours, well content to serve music and his audience with his art.

© 2008 J H Stape