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Pianist Daniel Lebhardt's powerful playing is 'Gift' to full house at Kleinhans

Sunday’s “Gift to the Community” recital (sponsored by the Buffalo Chamber Music Society) showcased Daniel Lebhardt, a young pianist with substantial technical chops and an impressive tally of wins in numerous prestigious international competitions. The audience at Kleinhans (a full house) responded to his playing with standing ovations and bounteous applause after every piece played.

He began by whipping into gear with a steely fingered approach to the opening Allegro vivace of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 16 in G major (Op. 31, No. 1). The playing was laced with more power than subtlety and although there were compensating moments of grace and delicacy in the work’s Adagio that carried over into the dancing tripartite Rondo, the overall performance seemed geared more towards speed and energy.

Still, this was a good way to lead into the next work on the program, the premiere of Tonia Ko’s “Games of Belief.” Ko is this season’s Young Concert Artist Composer in Residence, and she wrote this score specifically for Lebhardt. It took into account his prodigious skills and meshed them with her own distinct approach to create an interesting work that wouldn’t be out of place at a June in Buffalo concert.

There were backhanded glissandos, spots where the pianist reached into the piano’s body to massage and control the strings being struck by the keys/hammers, and moments of silence bracketing intensely focused sonic bursts. The applause offered up as the piece ended appeared a bit more hesitant but picked up in steam as conversation amongst the listeners included discussions about what it was they just heard.

Franz Liszt’s massive and powerful Sonata in B minor was, in many ways, a perfect topper for the concert. It features an almost endless loop of sonic rage and transfiguration that calls for volcanic fervor and emotionally sensitive playing in close quarters. There is a certain logic to the way Liszt structured the work, but listening to it demands attention because there are sections where you could swear that the composer was mentally caressing the score and stomping around the room while doing so. It is inarguably a great piece, one that seems tailor-made for Lebhardt and one that he embraced.

And many in the audience jumped to their feet. It felt perfectly natural.

Before Lebhardt’s performance, some chamber music students from the University at Buffalo played sections of works by Franz Schubert (the “Trout” Quintet) and Dmitri Shostakovich (String Quartet No. 3).

People were entering during the performances, some quietly but others conversing with acquaintances while searching out seats.

As more folks filed in, the ambient noise rose, in spots, above the music coming from the stage. The students deserved more respect but, in many cases, it was a bit like being a lounge musician where the music is a backdrop and the players are hired hands.


Daniel Lebhardt

Sunday in Kleinhans Music Hall

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