Christopher Taylor at the Lensic in Santa Fe
Hearing that renowned soloist Murray Perahia had cancelled his October 25th recital in Santa Fe, I expected to summarize a performance by his replacement, Christopher Taylor, that the only thing missing from Taylors performance was Murray Perahia.
During the first minutes of Schumanns Waldszenen (1848), nine short narratives of forest dream, I almost looked to the wings for a tuxedoed Perahia – particularly during Taylors late-in-the-program, unsensational 32 Variations in C minor by Beethoven. But Taylor, professor of piano performance at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, is athletic and taut with modernist instinct, a keen intellect at the keyboard. Gathering together shorter transparencies of Schumann and Schoenberg with Stravinskys “Petrushka,” he made a case, imperfect though it was, that besides breathless surrender to concert superstars and the 3 Bs, there is another way.
Taylors entrance (“Eintritt”), though, into Schumanns varied enchantments was too frisky and fast, too much youthful arithmetic to underscore the composers drift into interior strangeness. He played past the predatory growl and the weird sweetness, Blakeian in many of the vignettes, of “A Hunter in Ambush.” But with the celebrated, “The Prophet Bird,” Taylor combined an exquisite literalism with absorbed, expressionist abstractions — fragments of 32nd notes thrown from the hand, then caught midair in long caesura. He illustrated a wildness in Schumann design; the more reassuring poetry breaking apart, prophetic of the programs later Op 11 by Schoenberg. A similar spirit lingered in the “Haunted Spot” with its slow mania of dotted rhythms.
An advocate of contemporary music, Taylor introduced, perhaps warned of Schoenbergs rejection of classical architecture, conscious logic and pathos. Key signatures disappear, and time ““ as we would hear in Op 11 and especially in the 6 miniatures of Op 19, becomes a bruising concussion or a form of thought infatuated with its own fickleness. In both works there is conventional theme and variation colored by vague but audible harmonic logic. Still, Taylor caught the shimmering possibilities of tonal disintegration, trills of last resort, the slow chromatic sinking that tries in often jagged intervals of 3rd and 4ths to scratch its way back up the staff. While adding to Schoenbergs early deconstructionism an elemental, sensual lyricism, part French part German, Taylors was the best kind of technical aggression, dictatorially precise.
Taylor characterized “Petrushka,” Stravinskys virtuosic reworking of his ballet about an ugly, love-lost puppet brought to life with a magic flute, as a “show-stopper:” and when a Van Cliburn medalist is fortunate enough to have finished it intact, it generally is. Petrushka is a bravura of octave work, speed, delirious syncopation, manic spines of glissando and opera buffo assaults of smashed tone clusters. Under the pressure of Stravinskys score, Taylors kinetic exuberance, evident throughout the night, grew in kind into a fascinating grotesque of the concert pianist as a kind of marionette. Glen Gould, Lang Lang, and Keith Jarrett came to mind here. Taylor romped in convulsive, spasmodic response, arms akimbo, head jerking side to side, hands and feet cavorting as though yanked by strings. The piano played him as much as the other way around, Stravinsky the puppeteer to Taylors every moment of coming to life. But Taylor himself took the lifeless score off the shelf, plied wood and wires with such necessity that the “Petrushka” beguiled: sentient, passionate, full of tantrum, brief lulls of tenderness. After the final glissando, Taylor, in a crumpled soaked suit, rose in a heap, straightened and bowed. Cut loose, I think