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The Asheville Area Piano Forum opens its membership not only to professional pianists and piano teachers but also to amateur performers and enthusiasts who simply love the large repertoire for the piano. On Sunday, in Diana Wortham Theatre, the AAPF held its 14th annual fall benefit concert with the proceeds going towards scholarships. The fourteen musicians on the program included a guest vocalist and thirteen pianists whose biographies took seven full pages of the program – more than can be mentioned here. Suffice to say that their national and in some cases international careers have included teaching at prestigious universities and conservatories, jazz, Broadway and Hollywood arrangement and performance, as well as piano instruction in Western North Carolina.
The concert began with Karen Boyd and Ruth Nussbaum-Borden playing two duo piano works by Reynaldo Hahn, born in Venezuela but raised and active in France. Hahn was a close friend of Marcel Proust and set poems by Paul Verlaine, among others, to music. His melody-focused compositional style shows those influences, and this listener found Hahn thoroughly French and thoroughly pleasing. I was reminded of Jacques Ibert.
Following music by this unfamiliar composer, Teresa Sumpter presented a familiar work by J.S. Bach. The Prelude & Fugue No. 12 is one of my favorites from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier. Sumpter shaped the harmonically complex Prelude with distinction, and in the three-part Fugue used the dynamic possibilities of piano voicing to good effect, marred only by a brief memory lapse.
Anna Hayward then provided elegant voicing in her presentation of W.A. Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K.511. The “A” section of this five-part rondo (A-B-A-C-A) includes elaborate filigrees that I found a little mannered, but my dispute is with the composer and not with Hayward, who was true to the score.
After hearing from four local active piano teachers, we heard from a student, Ren Zhang, winner of the 2014 AAPF Piano Competition. He played the Chopin Fantasie-Impromptu in C sharp minor, Op. 66, an incredibly demanding work for a 15-year-old. I liked especially the second section, when he let the gorgeous tune carry him along and used more rubato.
Michael Jefry Stevens provided a change of pace, performing Thelonious Monk and Fats Waller tunes, showing that it does mean a thing, when you got the swing.
The first half of the concert concluded with Elizabeth Child in a fine performance of the Chopin Barcarolle in F sharp minor, Op. 60. This is the first time I have heard this Tryon resident in concert, and I felt that she built the dramatic arc to a wonderful apex, while keeping the left hand tattoo rhythmic but not metronomic. Of the entire program, this was for me the high point.
Following intermission, Scott Camp and Brian Turner, local jazz musicians, provided a jet-propelled trip through a medley of Chick Corea tunes, showing a unity that duo pianists show only after a long and successful collaboration. David Troy Francis provided a talented accompaniment to two show tunes sung by Mark Morales, and then soloed in his own arrangement of a Thomas Dorsey tune followed by a 19th century American tune that complemented the spirit of the Dorsey.
Local composer Nathan Shirley presented his “Etude for One Hand or Two,” a most interesting work. The first section is for left hand alone, presenting a seven-note motif in the treble with arpeggiation to provide a harmonic accompaniment above pedal tones. The second section is for both hands, and repeats the same musical sequence but now adding countermelodies in the treble. The first section was satisfying; the second section was outstanding. This is the finest composition I have heard from this young man.
Polly Feitzinger provided an elegant miniature, Ernő Dohnányi’s Postludium (from a suite of ten bagatelles entitled Winterreigen, Op. 13.) It left me longing for more Dohnányi.
The concert concluded with Les Downs playing the formidable Ballade No. 2 in F major, Op. 38. The quiet first section preceded a fiery burst into the agitato section that was well-executed. This was the third selection of the day from the pen of Frédéric Chopin, appropriate since he is a composer beloved of all pianists, and this was a day to celebrate the piano.