Frederick Moyer, grandson of pianist David Moyer and Paul Green (and cousin of cellist Nancy Green) must have started his career as a toddler, for he's been at it, full time, for over 20 years, but he still looks young. (It's all relative, as someone recently reminded me!) He escapes from New Hampshire to visit North Carolina from time to time, often turning up in unexpected places like retirement communities. His latest visit to the Tar Heel State included an impressive recital at the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, in Southern Pines. The venue, which has been visited often by our colleague William Thomas Walker, suggests a scaled-down Smedes Parlor or a scaled-up Horace Williams House. Folding chairs provide seating for around 90 people. A medium-sized Yamaha piano is positioned along one of the long walls, ensuring that no member of the audience is more than 20 feet from the artist. The place was packed on the evening of April 13 for a program that turned the conventional, formulaic approach to recital building on its head.
Moyer began with short selections, starting with Rachmaninoff's arrangement of the Prelude to Bach's E Major Partita, originally for solo violin. We've recently written about Arthur Loesser's Bach, and Moyer's was dazzling, although part of the dazzle was Rachmaninoff's doing. Old Stone face would probably not have been pleased to have this selection followed by his own C-Sharp Minor Prelude ("The Prelude"), but he would surely not have objected to the way Moyer played it. The artist bridged this to four excerpts from Arensky's Morceaux characteristiques, Op. 36, comparably dazzling showpieces by Rachmaninoff's teacher that Moyer will record, complete, later this year-the recording, a premiere, will surely wind up on many must-have lists. It wasn't much of a stretch from the Prelude, full of anticipation, the sparkling Intermezzo, the elegant "Russian in the Forest," with its swirling figures that may illustrate wind-blown snow, and its depiction of a whirling top (which elicited oohs and aahs from the audience), to the music of Donal Fox, who is presently creating a series of pieces for Moyer. The composer is sometimes branded as a crossover artist, but he's an important teacher (among whose students is Duke composer Anthony Kelley) and his readily accessible music is as demanding, technically, as Rachmaninoff's. His deconstruction of Bach's E Major Toccata, "Toccata on Bach," was described by the guest pianist as "Bach on Drugs," and that handle fit it admirably.
We raved about Moyer's recent Chopin CD (the review is in our CD Archives), so it was a delight to hear him play the Third Ballade in the flesh. He made the dramatic piece seem easy, which is no mean trick, and he prefaced it with a fascinating tale about its purported story-line, conveyed to him by Grandpa Moyer, who got it directly from Busoni, with whom he'd worked, in pre-WWI Berlin.
The second half of the program began with Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata, fare more often encountered earlier in recital programs. Moyer's Beethoven is as impressive as the Romantic and modern music he plays, although the voicing of the Weymouth instrument, somewhat problematical throughout the program, made this Sonata sound a bit more brittle than it should. (Earlier, Moyer had disappeared from view while he adjusted a balky pedal-it wasn't the first time we've seen him perform surgery on pianos he's played in North Carolina!)
The grand finale was a complete performance of the solo piano version of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Moyer noted that the transcription may not have been the composer's own-we have the score, too, and have wondered about a few uncharacteristically knotty sections-but his performance, which he said involved some slight retouching, was brilliant, so to whomever did it, we must be grateful, indeed. The encore was Myra Hess' transcription of Bach's cantata setting of the chorale, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."
In the Gershwin and elsewhere in the program it was apparent that Moyer possesses rock solid technique of the most virtuosic persuasion that he uses to project his well-considered interpretations with the utmost precision and clarity.
Moyer will return to the Weymouth Center next fall for a gala concert, details of which will appear in our calendar in due course. He's worth going out of the way to hear, for he's unquestionably one of our leading artists. Weymouth is a comfortable drive from the Triangle, and the house and grounds are lovely. We urge our readers to monitor concert presentations there and sample them.