Review: Pianist Inon Barnatan opens Spivey Hall season with emotionally precise recital

09.28.16
Inon Barnatan
Arts Atlanta

On Sunday afternoon pianist Inon Barnatan performed a solo recital of music by Bach, Brahms, Schubert and Ligeti to officially open Spivey Hall’s 2016-17 concert season.
Barnatan made his impressive Atlanta debut in May 2013 as a last-minute substitute for indisposed pianist Marc-André Hamelin, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He returned to the ASO stage in January 2015 to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor.
This Spivey Hall performance opened with Johannes Brahms’ transcription, for left hand only, of J.S. Bach’s famous Chaconne in D minor for solo violin. Unlike the massive piano transcription by Ferruccio Busoni, this one by Brahms is lean and attempts to reflect the effect of the solo violin to the extent that a piano can. Barnatan gave it a noble performance. Although he was playing piano, he was clearly aware of the challenges that are idiomatic to the original instrument, the violin, and brought some of those elements into his musical approach.
Barnatan has been acquiring a good bit of critical acclaim for his performances of the music of Franz Schubert, so it was no surprise to see on the program that composer’s late Sonata in G major, D. 894. In contrast to the piano sonatas of Beethoven, whose dramatic personality loomed large throughout Schubert’s entire short life, the success of Schubert’s own sonatas hinge upon their lyrical luminosity, his capacity for song. Barnatan brought out the best of these qualities in a thoughtful, emotionally insightful performance which illuminated both the Classical and Romantic aspects of the composer’s style.
So far, Barnatan has recorded Schubert’s final three piano sonatas — in B flat major, C minor and A major (D. 958-960). One might easily expect a recording of this Sonata in G major to be forthcoming at some point in the reasonably near future.
Although he has been acquiring a bit of a reputation as interpreter of Schubert’s music, Barnatan is also a champion of modern and contemporary composers. Thus the most unusual and interesting work on this program, “Musica ricercata” by Hungarian composer György Ligeti (1923-2006).
Barnatan returned to the stage for an encore; Schubert’s Impromptu in G-flat major, Op. 90 No. 3. At nearly six-and-a-half minutes duration, it felt a little long for an encore, but the relaxed melodic flow of its dreamy melody offered up an appropriate mood with which to cap the program. Barnatan included it as the final track on his CD of Schubert’s C minor and A major Sonatas, and has also made it available on YouTube. Read the rest of the review here