Ray Kilburn, on the faculty of Peace College for the last seven years, has left North Carolina for Indiana's Ball State University. Luckily, he has been returning to the area for several concerts this season.
On November 19, 2001, he gave a recital in a familiar setting, the Kenan Recital Hall on Peace campus. The evening simply reconfirmed Kilburn's established talents - deeply emotional renderings, firm technique and bold but finely shaded interpretations. Kilburn exhibited great stamina, playing for an hour and fifteen minutes, without an intermission or extended breaks, a demanding program of daunting works. His cogent and often humorous comments before each group of pieces were charmingly and personably delivered.
The program began with two works by Liszt, "Il Penseroso" from Années de pèlerinage, Italie and "Eroica" from Études d'exécution transcendante . Kilburn skillfully conjured up the languid murkiness of the first and the sharp edges of the second, giving each great dynamic range. Most impressively, he confidently maintained an overview of the architecture of each piece, no small feat in these somewhat sprawling, episodic works.
Next came four of the seven Fantasien, Opus 116 (3, 4, 6 & 7) by Brahms. The two outer Capriccios were rich and majestic, strongly rhythmical, the flying runs of the second precise and clean. The two inner Intermezzos had palpable, almost painful emotional depth, a tribute to Kilburn's intense involvement.
The three Chopin selections were especially appealing. The two Nocturnes, Op. 15, Nos. 1 & 2, had great elasticity and authority, and the Étude, Op. 25, no. 5 was richly expressive. Kilburn's determination to conquer the piece's technical difficulties brought out an amusing "take that" gesture as he nailed each one. He also exhibited great aplomb and control as he briefly lost his way in the refrain of the complex swagger of the main theme.
Kilburn next turned to Rachmaninoff, offering two preludes. The first, Op. 32, no. 10 in B minor, was reputed to be the composer's favorite (as opposed to the famous one in C-sharp minor). Kilburn's evocation of a cold, clear winter morning, employing a bold, large tone, made it easy to see why. Kilburn attacked the finger-mangling Op. 23, no. 5, his mostly successful struggle to tame the beast plain evidence of the near impossibility of the task.
The recital ended with a little-known display piece, "Basso Ostinato," by current Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin, known mostly for his ballets and orchestral works. Kilburn had heard it more that two decades ago at a competition in his native Canada and sought the score for years, stymied by the strictures of the Iron Curtain. After the Soviet breakup, he was able to acquire the score and now programs it often on his recitals.
One can see the allure for a pianist in the short work's quasi-Prokofiev angularity and sharp chords. Kilburn's ability to clearly articulate the frenzied runs and high-speed repetitions was admirable, giving the rather empty composition his full attention and conviction.
That the recital was so satisfying was due to Kilburn's dedication and seriousness of purpose, enhanced by his genial charm and substantial technique. He will be missed.