It is incredibly rewarding to witness artistic growth and especially so when an artist you have been enjoying for some time is achieving a master's degree. We arrived at Juilliard last night rain-soaked and wind-blown but by the end of the recital our frown had turned upside down, a phenomenon that will be familiar to music lovers.
Mr. Kelley is an outstanding collaborative pianist, as we already knew. But last night was an opportunity to hear him work with several different singers and a cellist heretofore unknown to us. He subtly adjusted his prodigious technique to suit each and every circumstance.
First on the program, he was joined by countertenor Jakub Jozef Orlinski and tenor Matthew Swensen for Benjamin Britten's Canticle II: "Abraham and Isaac" which we saw performed last year at Chelsea Opera. (Review archived). We are never fond of bible stories but this is one of the most immoral and despicable of all. In our opinion, true morality is doing what is right regardless of what one is told, whereas doing what you are told regardless of what is right is nothing more than obedience.
Personal distaste for the subject matter aside, the three artists performed magnificently with Mr. Swensen as the misguidedly obedient father and Mr. Orlinski portraying the heartbreakingly obedient and trusting child. Even with scores in hand they acted with body as well as voice; Mr. Kelley modulated his playing to fit every mood change. The harmonies of the final duet were strikingly accomplished.
The next work on the program was Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Cello and Piano. Mr. Kelley pointed out that both the Britten and the Poulenc were written contemporaneously in the post WWII period. This was an excellent opportunity to hear Mr. Kelley partner with another instrumentalist, a new experience for us.
Julian Schwarz' playing was just as fine as Mr. Kelley's; the two seemed to have a superb partnership and both navigated the many moods evinced within the four movements. The first was light-hearted; the second was lyrically somber and marked by gorgeous glissandi and a peaceful conclusion; the third was downright frisky by way of staccati given a Gallic shrug; and the fourth exhibited tension, ponderousness, then a music hall type franticness. Whew!
The second half of the program brought us to more familiar territory. By this time we had decided that Mr. Kelley chose his partners well and mezzo-soprano Caitlin Redding was just the right singer for a quartet of early songs by Arnold Schoenberg and three selections from Cinq poèmes de Baudelaire set by Debussy.
Among the Schoenberg songs we loved the evocative "Erwartung" and the sensual "Schenk mir deinen goldenen Kamm". It has taken many hearings for us to appreciate Schoenberg but the artistry of Ms. Redding and Mr. Kelley brought us farther along the path.
Among the Debussy selections, our favorite was "Le jet d'eau" in which Mr. Kelley's piano limned all the rippling and splashing of the fountain. Indeed we decided that Debussy did for fountains what Beethoven did for moonlight.
The final part of the program comprised four selections from Sergei Rachmaninoff's Six Romances, Op. 38 for which soprano Christine Price was an excellent choice.
The more we listen the greater is our admiration for the art of Collaborative Piano. It is not enough to be an excellent pianist; there is so much involved in matching the other artist's tempi, coloring, and dynamics. We'd say that Mr. Kelley has mastered the art!
(c) meche kroop