Monday October 10th, 2016 - Young Concert Artists presenting pianist Rémi Geniet (above) in recital at Zankel Hall: the opening concert of the YCA season. Once again, Gotham's music-lovers can feel deeply grateful to Susan Wadsworth, Young Concert Artists' founder, and her dedicated Board and staff, for bringing forward a musician of Mr. Geniet's prodigious gifts.
The French pianist is 23-years-old, but looks younger; his playing, however, showed striking maturity of artistry aligned to a sophisticated technique. The way he managed his presentation - patiently waiting for the rather fidgety audience to settle down before commencing each piece - spoke of his desire to serve up the music free of external distractions.
Bach to open the evening: the Partita No. 4 in D Major, BWV 828 is one of J S Bach's six keyboard partitas, or suites of dances, which have become part and parcel of every professional pianist's repertory. The Partita #4 is considered by many pianists and Bach aficianados to be the "best" of the six, demonstrating - as it most convincingly does - Bach's skill in mixing styles and moods within a given work.
This evening, Rémi Geniet's rendering of the Partita #4 served as a most congenial calling card, whilst also whetting the crowd's appetite for the Beethoven and Prokofiev to come. Among the many felicities of his playing were a finesse of dynamics and much colorful agility. I particularly relished the very subtle pauses that Mr. Geniet brought to the Sarabande.
During the silences between the dances of this Bach suite, the sight of Mr. Geniet's hands poised over the keyboard became quite mesmerizing as he prepared to commence each movement; they added an element of visual poetry to the pianist's very satisfying musical interpretation.
Mr. Geniet did not leave the stage after the Bach, instead sitting still and pensively regarding the keyboard. Several times he lifted his hands to start, only to hold back when audience restlessness distracted him. How right he was to delay, for once he commenced the Adagio Sostenuto of the Beethoven Moonlight sonata, his playing transported us to another world.
Having never experienced the Moonlight played 'live', I wasn't quite prepared for just what an emotional journey it is - both for the player and the listener. Mr. Geniet's immediate establishment of a dreamlike atmosphere, and his deep sensitivity to the misterioso quality of the music set this among the most moving musical experiences of recent seasons.
In the more generalized Allegretto which serves as a bridge between the first and last movements of the sonata, Mr. Geniet's vivid and fluent playing sustained our interest; once the tumult of the Presto Agitato commenced, the young pianist used an almost daemonic attack and a dazzlement of bravura passage-work to propel us thru the stormy aspects of the movement. These are offset by more lyrical motifs, which Mr. Geniet summoned up with affection. His performance drew very enthusiastic applause from the audience.
The printed program's concluding work, Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat Major, Op. 84, is one of the composer's “war sonatas”, written between 1939 and 1944. Emil Gilels premiered the sonata at the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory on December 30th, 1944; the piece was later hailed by Sviatoslav Richter as Prokofiev’s greatest contribution to the sonata genre.
In the first movement, marked “dolce”, Mr. Geniet caught the underlying intensity of the music's rather angular lyricism, bringing great subtlety to the periodic resolutions to major chords. Throughout the sonata, the pianist found an ideal balance between powerful turbulence and off-kilter tenderness. His triumphant performance was as savourable to watch as to hear.
Mr. Geniet was very generous with encores: if I am not mistaken, the three works he chose represented the Russian, French, and Viennese schools. He played them all superbly, and the enthusiastic crowd greatly enjoyed these added delights to an already wonderful program.
Learn more about Rémi Geniet at his website here. I feel certain we'll be hearing much more from this exciting young pianist in the seasons ahead.