It’s a big month for Russian music, with a “Russian Spectacular” at the Seattle Symphony through next week — and a spectacular Russian recital Wednesday evening by pianist Jon Kimura Parker.
Parker, whose recital concluded this season’s President’s Piano Series, strode onto the Meany stage to greet an enthusiastic hometown crowd (he hails from Vancouver, B.C., but has performed extensively in Seattle, and his wife, Aloysia Friedmann, grew up here. His mother-in-law, the oboist and retired UW faculty member Laila Storch, actually performed “The Rite of Spring” twice under the baton of composer Igor Stravinsky).
Chatting informally with the audience, Parker established a relaxed, friendly vibe — and then knocked everyone’s socks off with a powerhouse recital of jaw-dropping intensity and finesse.
The all-Russian program offered tough, uncompromising repertoire, most of it originally written for full orchestra, and all of it so technically demanding that playing it qualifies as an “extreme sport,” so to speak. Parker performed his own transcription of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” a work so explosively difficult that it would be the centerpiece of any pianist’s program. And then he followed that with a viscerally exciting reading of Mussorgsky’s mighty “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
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Just to round things out, there were two shorter Russian pieces composed for the piano: Rachmaninoff’s martial Prelude in G Minor, and the dizzying, high-energy Sonata No. 3 of Prokofiev. The Prokofiev sonata established the tone of the recital: tremendous virtuosity, tonal variety and sheer firepower.
It was the “Rite” that riveted the ear, with the orchestral sonorities and driving rhythms all realized on the keyboard by a pianist/transcriber who seemed at some points to have at least four hands. So great was the intensity of the performance that Parker stopped at one midpoint to mop his brow before continuing.
From the opening melody of the “Rite” (and Parker somehow managed to make the piano’s melody sound like a bassoon) to the final Sacrificial Dance, Parker expanded the normal expressive range of the keyboard, from a delicate whisper to a thunder that rocked the house.
Here, and also in the Mussorgsky, he drew an enormous variety of colors and textures from the piano, in the punchy percussive effects of the “Rite” as well as the delicate traceries of the “Tuileries” movement of “Pictures.” He offered an unusually robust account of Mussorgsky’s “Bydlo” movement, and let the chords linger sumptuously in “The Old Castle.” The massive sonorities of “The Great Gate of Kiev” were so forcefully rendered that it sounded as if Parker had a cannon or two under the piano lid.
Not surprisingly, a recital this good brought several noisy standing ovations from an audience that has always been particular connoisseurs of the keyboard. Parker returned with Rachmaninoff’s exquisitely gentle Prelude in G Major, as a kind of benediction for his fans.
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.