May 1, 2011 “The Power of Virtuosity” Bruce Vogt (Review)

“The Power of Virtuosity”

Bruce Vogt’s all-Liszt recital at St. Michael’s Church, Chemainus on May 1, was a reminder of the reason why you don’t hear amateurs play Lizst very often:  it’s just too technically difficult.  All of the pieces included in this recital demand enormous technical skill and a technique that takes years to perfect.  Lizst has been criticized as a composer who favoured showy effects over musical sensitivity, and such criticism is not entirely without foundation.  Yet as Vogt, Professor of Piano at the University of Victoria, pointed out, there’s more to Liszt than just fireworks.

Vogt began the recital with a short talk making the point that Lizst put his technique at the service of his art—that it was simply the tool that the composer used to draw the picture he wanted to draw. Most of the pieces played were “program music”—compositions that told a story, or were interpretations of poems, and the demands made on the performer were for the purpose of illustrating sorrow, or anger, or love.

What amazingly difficult pieces these are.  The “Variations on a Theme of Bach” produced enough volume to fill a cathedral, let alone the small Chemainus church.  Liszt’s variations on themes from Bellini’s opera “Norma” (“Reminiscences de Norma”), must have as many fast arpeggios, as many hand-crossings, fortissimos, crescendos, as any piano piece ever written. If Lizst was paid by the note, he must have died a rich man.  It can’t be easy to transcend the acrobatics that are going on, and get to the heart of the piece, but Vogt certainly accomplished this.

–Bill Morrison