Sharon Puts in Uneven Performance
February 12, 2002 - Chapel Hill, NC:
Pianist Boaz Sharon came to Hill Hall with an impressive program and left in a cloud of wrong notes.
Head of the Piano Area at the University of Florida School of Music and a Steinway Artist with a wide international reputation, Sharon also spent some time at UNC-CH as a visiting artist. Unfortunately, whether from lack of rehearsal time or just a bad day, the first half of the program had so many lapses of memory and wrong notes that it became embarrassing. The second half, perhaps a repertoire closer to his heart, was much better.
Sharon opened the program with an off-program hors d'oeuvre, a Sarabande by Jean-Philippe Rameau before he launched into the first work on the program, Robert Schumann's Arabesque , Op.18. It was a curious performance, at times emotionless and mechanical-he played the first episode after the rondo theme with no variation in dynamics through four repeats of the passage. Other sections were rife with schmaltzy rubato.
Haydn's Piano Sonata in C, Hob.XVI:50 is probably his last and was definitely written for the fortepiano. As if attempting to imitate the timbre of the early piano, Sharon minimized the use of pedal but lost the thread of the themes, especially in the first movement where the main theme recurs many times, each time significantly modified.
When we first saw the program, we were delighted to see Schubert's Piano Sonata in B-flat, D.960. A work full of emotional ambivalence, the Sonata continually slips in and out of dark, minor keys throughout (a Schubertian trademark). Finished just two months before the composer's death, it is a contemplative work with constant shifts in mood between hope and despair. There is no way you can fake it in these late Schubert works. Here you have a 31-year-old man who knows he is dying and pours out his pain. And unless the performer can put himself in his place and really empathize with what such a death sentence must have felt, the performance will fall flat on its face. Sharon had serious technical problems throughout, even in the slow sections, and his approach was mechanical and uninvolved. In the last movement his frantic tempo left little place for the gradual buildup of speed and tension leading to the presto coda. When we came home we both felt the need to rehear the work in one of our favorite performances by pianist Clifford Curzon.
After intermission things got better. Sharon opened with a substitution, one of Poulenc's Trois Mouvements Perpetueles , a work he clearly enjoyed playing and a good choice for clearing the palate after Schubert. This was followed by a lively and well thought-out performance of two of Ravel's five Mirroirs . His performance was lively and precise. We wished he had played the whole set.
The program ended with Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.8, Op.84. This work actually dovetailed with the first half of the program, since the first two movements are very Schubertian. Composed near the end of W.W.II, when the carnage of the previous three years became general knowledge, these two movements reflect a similar mood of pain and despair. Only in the last movement does the old Prokofiev of the pianistic fireworks reappear, but by now without the youthful exuberance of his compositions two or three decades earlier. Sharon's performance showed the technical mastery lacking in the program's first half. In the first two movements he showed much more sensitivity and emotion than in the Schubert Sonata. His attack on the last movement was appropriately brutal and fast.