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For the past number of years, the Nanaimo Conservatory of Music has presented a recital by a well known Canadian pianist. The recitals provide the opportunity for the Nanaimo audiences to hear some of the finest performances of the piano repertoire. This year was no exception when, on 14 October 2018, well known and very accomplished Canadian pianist Ian Parker took to the stage at the Port Theatre to present a very unique recital titled “Variations.” The very nature of the variation form requires a display of a wide variety of expressive playing and technique on the part of the pianist, both of which Mr. Parker had in abundance. He selected repertoire from a broad spectrum of music styles, spanning early classic to the 20th century.

First on the program were Haydn’s Variations in F minor. Mr. Parker took some time to illustrate to the audience what the word “variations” meant when applied to a composition in music. He began by playing the melodic idea known as the theme, then described the way Haydn used major and minor as one way of modifying the theme. The Haydn Variations were played with delicate clarity, especially in the ornamental and florid passages. There was a noticeable gentleness to the playing when the Variations moved into the somber minor mode.

Next on the program were variations from the Romantic era as the audience listened to Schubert’s Lieder music as transcribed in variations by Liszt. Liszt retained the intense lyricism and emotional impact of Schubert’s songs as he transformed them into dazzling compositions for solo piano. Trying to hear the themes of the Schubert Lieder was somewhat more challenging. Again, Mr. Parker gave the audience some listening guidance. Before he played Gretchen am Spinnrade, we were told to listen for the repetitive sound of a spinning wheel forming a base on which the melody could be heard.  The whole piece follows the circle of a spinning wheel, from the looping right hand figure to the modulations through numerous keys, before returning to the home key of D minor. For the second composition, Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, Liszt placed Schubert’s melody on the sounds of water. As we were told by Mr. Parker, “The water goes through such tumult that it eventually evaporates!” And so it did!

It is always refreshing to hear how different pianists interpret Beethoven’s Sonata No. 14, Op.27 No.2. Formally, the Sonata is known as “Quasi una fantasia” but informally it is referred to as “The Moonlight Sonata.” Mr. Parker spoke to the harmonic technique Beethoven used to create the melody in the first movement. His interpretation, although not as gentle as that played by Angela Hewitt at last year’s recital, had this reviewer listening for the harmonic changes which developed the melody. After a playful second movement, it was the third movement that was played, delightfully, at just the right tempo. Some pianists play it at a such a rapid pace that it becomes a blur and details of harmonic changes and melodies are often lost. This performance gave such clarity to the third movement without sacrificing its intensity.

The Three Preludes by George Gershwin brought the audience refreshingly into the 20th century. In Mr. Parker’s words, the first prelude, beginning with a five note blues motif, is as hectic as Manhattan life with its energetic syncopation; the second more like a lullaby with its slow swinging eighth notes and the third an infusion of rugged Spanish rhythms and exciting syncopations. Mr. Parker has a true feel for the jazz idiom. As he played these works, his whole body seemed to lean into the rhythms and harmonies of these Gershwin preludes.

After intermission Mr. Parker played Brahms’ Handel Variations. There are 24 variations and the audience was given the heads up that the last variation was an intricate fugue. Without this knowledge it would have been impossible to keep track of what would be the finale. This is a work that truly demonstrated that Mr. Parker is a versatile pianist. He played the statement of Handel’s theme in a meticulous Baroque style. The Variations were soon in full blown Romantic style, reminiscent of Brahms’ rhapsodies and ballads, sometimes gentle, sometimes percussive, with massive chords interspersed with beautiful melodies. Strands of the final fugue were brought in with clarity amidst an abundance of chordal progressions. As soon as Mr. Parker finished the fugue, the audience was on its feet for a long standing ovation! This resulted in Mr. Parker returning to the stage with an encore, a Chopin Mazurka. It was very sensitively played, bringing the audience into a nice contemplative mood, ready for the drive home.

Throughout the recital Mr. Parker spoke with ease, inviting the audience to become more aware and involved in what they were hearing.  One soon realized that he is not only a brilliant pianist but a wonderful music educator. It was heartwarming to see a number of young people at the recital. Perhaps they were young piano students who upon hearing this recital could dream that they, some day, may play these masterworks.

Respectfully submitted by Rosemarie Sherban ARCT, B.ED, M.A.



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