I can’t remember the last time I reviewed a piano recital this daring. Matan Porat has taken the theme of Scarlatti’s sonata in D minor, K32, and found twenty accidental “variations” by other composers through the ages. The contributors are nearly every major composer for piano throughout history: it would be easier to list the great piano composers who are not here. List them I shall: Haydn, Schubert, Rachmaninov, Albéniz, Prokofiev. As if this wasn’t enough, Porat inserts three Notations by Pierre Boulez and an improvisation of his own.
Whew! It’s all an exhilarating hour-plus. Does it work as a theme-and-variations? Maybe not entirely, but more than you would expect. Is it a fascinating, even thrilling piano recital? Yes.
First I’ll review this as a listening experience: the jumps from one composer to the next can be surprising, but are often fascinating. My favourite is the switch from Boulez’ Notation No. 4 to a Mozart Gigue; I could not tell when one piece ended and the next began. Really: you’ll laugh until you experience it for yourself. Boulez is also an inspired intro to Scriabin’s Vers la flamme, which in turn leads directly into Matan Porat’s own impassioned improvisation.
This is very good piano playing, by the way. Porat is probably not quite as engaged by Mendelssohn and Grieg miniatures as he is by the other works, but Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige is unbearably good, a Shostakovich waltz comes off brilliantly, and Franz Liszt’s massive Vallée d’Obermann is a total success. Sitting as it does amid a crowd of tiny pieces, it also feels like a huge epic, a feeling Porat’s playing abets.
Does this hold up as “Variations on a Theme by Scarlatti”? Sometimes. The François Couperin work is one of many to sound eerily like a development or reworking of the Scarlatti tune: see also the Debussy, Shostakovich, Ligeti and Scriabin. On the other hand, Porat freely admits that the Boulez Notations have nothing to do with the Scarlatti. The Grieg selection sounds like a mere two-note coincidence and the Chopin mazurka Porat chooses is not especially suitable. I’d have chosen Scriabin’s mazurka Op. 3 No. 1 (here's a Youtube video of it).
Nevertheless, there’s an arc to this recital which makes it more satisfying than the sum of its parts. Maybe it’s the humungous intensity of the last ten minutes but when Porat plays Scarlatti’s sonata again at the very end you’ll feel a fascinating catharsis.
As a composer, Matan Porat has been recorded several times. This is his first album as a pianist. It’s one of the most exciting debuts in many a year, for here is a new artist who takes the biggest possible risks and almost totally succeeds. His achievement grows the more I think about it. This disc is certainly for you if you hanker after audacity, after musicality, after stimulation.
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in D minor, K32 [1:55]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
La Muse-Plantine [2:12]
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)
Seulement le destin aveugle? [0:50]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Lied ohne Worte, Op. 62 No. 1 [1:55]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Lyric Piece Op. 12 No. 1 [1:05]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
From the Diary of a Fly [1:19]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Intermezzo in E minor, Op. 116 No. 5 [2:56]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in E minor, Op. 17 No. 2 [1:35]
Pierre BOULEZ (b.1925)
Notation No. 11 [0:41]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Vogel als Prophet (from Waldszenen) [3:20]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gnossienne No. 2 [1:50]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Des pas sur la neige [5:39]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Gigue from Partita No. 1 [2:24]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Lyric Waltz from Op. 91 [1:31]
George ANTHEIL (1900-1959)
Toccata No. 1 [1:56]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Tendres reproches, from Op. 72 [2:27]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Bagatelle in A flat, Op. 33 No. 7 [1:48]
Notation No. 4 [0:26]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Gigue in G, K574 [1:24]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Vallée d’Obermann [14:19]
György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Rubato lamentoso (from Musica ricercata) [3:07]
György KURT ÁG (b.1926)
Doina (from Játékok) [2:28]
Notation No. 8 [0:39]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Vers la flamme Op. 72 [6:30]
Matan PORAT (b.?)
Sonata in D minor, K32 [2:20]