Pianist Dobrzanski wraps up library series in fine fashion

By Ben Nyberg

The final concert of the 2013-2014 KSU Library Chamber Music Series, Friday evening, April 25, in the Hemisphere Room, featured its longtime friend and favorite, pianist Slawomir Dobrzanski, performing a program of unfamiliar works by composers both well known and obscure.

When I say unfamiliar, I mean that I’m fairly certain I’d never heard any of the pieces played live ever before, and I’ve been listening to live music for a while now. It was an experience revelatory, educational, and thoroughly pleasurable.

The voices of great actors supposedly can mesmerize listeners just reciting the phonebook. Dr. Dobrzanski’s gifts are such that I suspect he could hold an audience’s attention playing nothing but scales.

His secret is both obvious and inimitable. His fingers (or fists or whatever else may be called for) strike the notes with precision and at whatever speed and however firmly or gently may be required, and his feet engage the pedals only when they can help shape a composition’s intended sound. Simple mechanics, obviously.

But somehow the mechanics themselves, however dazzlingly apt, must serve a greater purpose, find the meaning and reveal the message written in the notes, a task demanding that rare sympathetic capability, interpretive artistry. And therein lies the inimitability.

Some highly successful performers have a strong affinity with only one genre or school. Several celebrity violinists, for instance, play every concerto from Bach to Berg as if it were Tchaikovsky. Dobrzanski imposes no such fixed style, is guided solely by each composer’s individual, idiosyncratic sensibility.

Thus his C. P. E. Bach was meticulously articulated and comparatively “dry,” in keeping with Bach’s preferred keyboard instruments (harpsichord and clavichord) and known practices. The structural innovations and daringly progressive idiom of both the C Minor Rondo and F Minor Sonata, while feistily quirky at times, were revealed to be of a comprehensibly coherent design.

Likewise, his Mozart paid tribute to the character of the fortepiano’s voice and delivery in the “Unser dummer Pobel meint” Variations, a work of daunting virtuosity and intense volatility. For all his classical observance of a certain musical decorum, Mozart was capable of “shock and awe” outbursts, and Dobrzanski made the most of them .

It was a special pleasure to hear a sample of the work of Maria Szymanowska, a precursor of, and a significant influence on, Chopin, and a composer Dr. Dobrzanski has championed in both performance and scholarship. Certainly the Nocturne, Etudes, and Romance we were treated to make a persuasive case for introducing her music to a wider audience.

The after-intermission half featured a Caprice by Felix Mendelssohn that lived up to its own name in its many changes of mood and tempo, and to its composer’s name with its bubbly outpourings of pure energy and prevailing good humor.

The lovely Variations on a Theme by Robert Schumann by Clara Schumann was another welcome performance rarity. If not as compelling as some of her other works, it nevertheless made a worthy addition to the evening’s pedagogical initiative.

Though the program ended without a single note of Chopin, its final numbers by two contemporary Polish-American composers, Jarostaw Golembiowski and Andrzej Dutkiewicz, each with strong Chopin ties, nevertheless proposed an unequivocal closing toast to the great Fryderyk.

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