Sunday, August 7, 2016

‘Friends meet the Instruments’: A concert hosted by Edward and Stephanie Neeman playing the Graf and Stein pianos from the ANU School of Music Historic Keyboard Museum; Friday, August 5th, 2016; Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm.

Music Review: Jennifer Gall
Photographs: By Kind Permission of Peter Hislop

In A Social History of the Piano, Dieter Hildebrandt affectionately describes the piano as ‘a cross between an expensive piece of furniture, a lavish plant stand and an unmanageable sculpture’, but also as the most orderly and democratic of instruments and ‘the most inviting’. Edward and Stephanie Neeman brought the very appealing Stein and Graph pianos from the ANU’s historic keyboard museum to life, performing 18th and early 19th century piano music in an intimate concert with both musicians and audience seated on the stage of the Llewellyn Hall. ANU Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt and his partner Jennifer Gordon were guests of honour to welcome Edward Neeman back to the School of Music where he studied with Professor Larry Sitsky prior to pursuing his career in the USA.

Neeman opened the concert with Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K.279 (1775) playing the replica fortepiano by Johann Andreas Stein originally crafted in Augsberg, 1788. How intriguing to hear this instrument with the fresh, dry sound emanating from a design lacking reverberating cross-stringing of 19th century pianos. The physical relationship of the pianist to the keyboard is vastly different to the way in which concert pianists must address a Steinway concert grand piano. Elbows are kept closer to the body and the dynamism and strength comes mainly from the wrist and fingers rather than the back, shoulders and arms. The sound world is more confined and delicate than the widely expressive realms of modern concert piano music. Neeman was not afraid to make the works on the program his own, extemporizing with personalized ornamentation in keeping with the tradition of the era in which the works were composed.

Haydn’s Variations in F minor/major, Hob. XVII:6 on the Stein piano revealed the elegant subtleties Haydn was able to find in weaving his delicate contrasting explorations in the minor and major keys – subtleties that are often less audible on a modern instrument.
After intermission, Stephanie and Edward performed a charming version of Schubert’s Fantasia in F minor, D.940 for four hands; an interpretation evocative of the romantic era of keyboard music wherein physical gestures developed to influence phrasing and maintain the sustained melodic line. The four pedals provided a diverse array of possibilities for dynamic control and variation in the sound quality of the instrument.

The final work was Mendelssohn’s Fantasia in F Sharp minor, Op. 28 - piano solo by Edward Neeman. This was an exceptional performance, not least for the final Presto, which surely must have broken several records for speed and clarity of articulation! Neeman’s pedaling created the clever illusions required to evoke Mendelssohn’s imagined Scottish landscape and brought the memorable evening to a close.