K-State pianist takes listeners on a voyage of discovery

Ben Nyberg

By A Contributor

The Kansas State University Library Chamber Music Series inaugurated its 2012-2013 season this past Friday evening with a Hemisphere Room piano recital of works by Haydn, Clara Schumann, Brahms, and Chopin by KSU music keyboard division chair Slawomir Dobrzanski.

I can’t pretend to objectivity about Dr. Dobrzanski’s performances. I simply enjoy them too much to claim a lack of bias. As I’ve observed in previous commentaries, our community is fortunate to host an artist of such exceptional talent so willing to share its benefits with us on a continuing basis.

The program was, as always, both technically challenging and highly varied as to the technical flexibility needed to do it justice. Meaning that it showcased, once again, Dobrzanski’s capacity to accommodate himself to the stylistic character of widely diverse compositional perspectives.

The marvelous Haydn sonata (Hob XVI/23) with which it opened lets a player (like Glenn Gould, say) exhibit the modern piano’s capacity to simulate the crisp, plucked tone and timbre of the harpsichord. Keeping his foot off the damper pedal, Dobrzanski demonstrated the possibility of attending to every note, even at high speed. The “dry” sound also enhanced the tenderness of the adagio movement.

As discussed in Dr. Craig Parker’s extensive printed notes, Clara Schumann’s lifetime of achievement is all the more remarkable considering all the hurdles the era’s sexism put in her path. Yes, she was in many ways privileged, but being wife (especially to Robert Schumann), mother (of eight!) and celebrity concert pianist worked against her chances as a composer. Can’t help wondering, what if? But there’s no question about the fecundity of imagination evidenced in her Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann—or the quality of its interpretation last Friday evening.

I may have mentioned before, but it bears repeating, that Dobrzanski never fails to remind us that the piano is a percussion instrument. His keyboard attacks have the startle power of gunshots, but are delivered as smoothly as fouettes and entirely free from the ugly effect known as “pounding.” Brahms’s Two Rhapsodies require the delivery of a number of such electrifying hammer blows.

But what struck me as most remarkable about his reading was its coherence. A musical rhapsody, being by nature an irregular, intuitively organized piece subject to fits and starts of temperament, can be hard to track. But Dobrzanski sensed Brahms’s every change of manner and shift in mood, however abrupt, seemingly sharing the composer’s own vision of the music’s intent, and led us securely through its hazards.

Most fittingly for a graduate of Warsaw’s Frederyk Chopin Academy of Music, Dobrzanski devoted the entire post-intermission half of the recital to Chopin. Among the five compositions offered I heard a few cadences I could be sure I’d encountered before, which served to remind me of another appealing aspect of his programs—their freshness.

Naturally I’m always up for another Beethoven “Waldstein” or Schubert “Wanderer,” yet I also really appreciate being treated to works worth hearing that don’t often get performed. Dobrzanski is an explorer, ever looking out for unfamiliar musical landscapes to investigate, using his skills to find and reveal their riches.

The end result is of course that every piece he puts his hands to, whether drawn from the mainstream or some lesser known source, feels newly imagined, reinvigorated by his belief in its value. Our thanks for another voyage of discovery.

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