Concert Review

Barry Snyder (pianist) at the RNCM 14th March 2000

Barry Snyder, the internationally renowned pianist who has developed a reputation as a versatile musician over the past thirty years, made a recent visit to the Royal Northern College of Music to perform a programme of Brahms and contemporary American piano music.

Snyder won three major prizes in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1966. Since then he has made thirty two recordings specialising in the music of Dohnányi, Faure, Stravinsky and music by women composers. He has been Professor of Piano at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music for twenty-six years.

He commenced with Brahms' Sonata Op.5 in F minor. Schumann referred to Brahms' three piano sonatas as 'veiled symphonies' alluding to their scale and frequent orchestral sonorities. Snyder has a commanding presence and certainly extracts all the dynamic possibilities of the instrument; it was a dramatic performance if at times a little uneven.

The second half of this concert was devoted entirely to American contemporary piano music. Perhaps this accounts for the sparse audience, a pity as it's not often we get the chance to hear piano music from America's older generation of composers.

One of these, Dreadful Memories, was a charming piece by Rzewski based on a ballad that Molly Jackson - the famous ballad singer - wrote and recorded in the 1930's. The engaging Two Etudes by the 1998 Music Pulitzer Prize winner William Bolcom followed. This was where Snyder could really exploit his penchant for pianissimo playing; one almost had to strain to hear the gentle melodies of the first etude and the repetitive figure in the second.

Pisces and Gemini from George Crumb's zodiacal set Makrokosmos Vol.II for amplified piano from 1973 were treated with similar sensitivity. The second - which I presumed to be the Piscean! - contrasted a direct quote from Chopin's Fantasie-Polonaise with bell-like timbres and angular movements. Crumb never ceases to amaze; he is a true original. In contrast the evening ended with a somewhat possessed piece by the young composer Carter Pann which was apparently written over a three-day period on Barry Snyder's Hamburg Steinway. This ragtime aimed to illustrate the injuries caused by that most threatening of kitchen appliances, The Cheese Grater - an ode to bloody knuckles everywere!

Ailís Ní Ríain

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