Tuesday at Lippes Concert Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus
Tuesday night found Jacob Greenberg walking onto the Lippes Concert Hall stage, sitting at the piano bench and unleashing his fingers in the service of Ludwig van Beethoven and Charles Ives.
It quickly became apparent, from the opening measures of Beethoven's "Variations on an Original Theme in F major", that this concert would be a showcase where the composer's art and the performer's art joined together as one.
In addition to the aforementioned work, Greenberg's recital also included Beethoven's "Eroica Variations," the "Emerson" movement from Ives' second piano sonata (aka "Concord, Mass., 1840-1860") and, with the aid of soprano Tony Arnold and baritone Alexander Hurd, a series of songs by Ives.
The Beethoven pieces bracketed the Ives scores, embracing 20th century experiments with 19th century explorations; the intriguing harmonies of one made way for the pungent phrasing of the other.
While the "Variations on an Original Theme in F major" emphasized Greenberg's wonderful blend of subtlety and speed, the "Emerson" section of the Ives sonata was about power as a torrent of notes flew from the keyboard in angular discord before finally gliding into an almost funereal mode.
It was as the music was winding down that Adrienne Elisha's viola briefly slid behind Greenberg's piano playing with just the right amount of volume, creating the kind of surprising moment that Ives seemed to revel in.
The Ives songs presented during the recital were quirky settings in their own right, but quirky in the sense that traditional sounding melodies floated along before briefly twisting in midflight towards an unusual progression and then flipping back to a more conventional style.
It was here that Greenberg revealed his not inconsiderable talents as an accompanist, subtly guiding and coaching the singers along the musical path.
Arnold, who had earlier paired with Greenberg for an incredible performance of Berlioz's "Les Nuits d'Ete"' at her Sept. 9 recital, was particularly effective in the quickly paced "Ann Street", the lovely "Down East," and the bizarre coupling of Gilbert and Sullivan-esque patter song with traditional sounding parlor song of "Two Memories".
Hurd's baritone was effective (if slightly underpowered) in the stormy "Requiem," the dark and brooding "From the Swimmers," and the composer's somewhat twisted setting of "A Christmas Carol."
Beethoven's great "Eroica Variations" closed out the evening in spectacular fashion, and it became apparent that no encore was needed. Everything was perfect as it was.