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An American gentleman

Recital
Eric Himy, piano
Manoel Theatre

Few who were at the Manoel Theatre on Sunday will ever forget this American gentleman’s recital. It will remain one of the years’ highlights and probably many more to come. Eric Himy came very well prepared not only with a wealth of musical baggage but also a charming and disarmingly communicative way. He had the audience with him from the word “go!” His easy manner belied the very tough but sensitive professional musician. One of his first statements was that he was born in Brooklyn like George Gershwin, the Gershwin he professes he loves so much. Not only did he perform his own arrangement of that composer’s An American in Paris, as well as the three of the five Preludes but practically throughout the concert he referred to the way in which Gershwin was also so deeply steeped in the European classical, romantic and his own contemporary tradition.

He did this not only through anecdotes but by performing fragments showing how some European musical giants influenced his work.

Mr Himy’s An American in Paris, while faster than what we are used to hear in the fast passages, remained perfectly articulate and exciting and he brought out all the colour and imagery of the piece. The Preludes were no less exciting and came after the performance of Debussy’s La plus que lente and Golliwog’s cake Cakewalk. The first Debussy piece had all the deceptive charm of a work which is actually a dig not only at Parisian society’s obsession with the slow waltz but also a musical jibe at Wagner. In two other pieces which ended the first half of the recital, Mr Himy’s versatility continued mesmerising his audience with a beautifully rendered La fille aux cheveux de lin. He projected all the fantasy world of magic with his delicate touch in L’isle joyeuse and created an air of anticipation as to what he would do with the Chopin and Liszt pieces he chose to perform in the second half.

All expectations were met when after the usual introduction to composer and work he launched into Chopin’s lovely Fantaisie-Impromptu in C# minor, Opus posth., 66. This was followed by a surprise offering: his own arrangement of the slow movement from Chopin’s First Piano Concerto. Performed like that one could never have enough of Chopin, so the extra piece was more than welcome and thoroughly appreciated by what by then had become an almost insatiable audience for more and more polished gems from the American “visitor”. After the delightful Mazurka in A flat Opus 50, No. 2, came the sharply contrasting epic and bellicose Polonaise in A flat, Opus 53 nicknamed “heroic” because it is of heroic proportions and was projected with all the energetic zest and vigour of Chopin’s very strong nationalism for his oppressed Poland, yet without losing any of its appealing lyrical qualities.

Concluding (but momentarily) Mr Himy delved into Liszt via a lovely interpretation of Liebestraum No. 3, which was in great contrast to the pyrotechnical moments of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2. This was performed to an arrangement by the pianist himself after an earlier arrangement by Vladimir Horowitz. One felt there was much more Himy than Horowitz in it and he performed it with same gusto and attention that he performed everything else. He was generous with encores, saying that he could have played all night and regaled the “wowed” audience with three Chopin works: an etude, a polonaise and a waltz.

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