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Friday, March 20, 2015


(Spencer Myer)

Immaculate technique one would expect from a top-class pianist. (Review by Michael Green)

The distinguished American pianist Spencer Myer is well known in South Africa, and he made a welcome return here when he played for the Friends of Music at the Durban Jewish Centre.

He gave a varied programme ranging from Domenico Scarlatti to modern American. He displayed the immaculate technique one would expect from a top-class pianist, and he presented the music with understanding, affection and insight.

Scarlatti (1685-1757) was a harpsichordist and one of the greatest of keyboard composers. Spencer Myer played three of his sonatas. There are 555 of them, short pieces that are classified by the letter K, which stands for Ralph Kirkpatrick, the American harpsichordist who visited South Africa about 50 years ago and became the supreme modern authority on Scarlatti.

Spencer Myer captured expertly the lively spirit of these delightful pieces.

He followed with Schumann’s big Fantasie in C. Dating from 1836, this is one of the composer’s finest works, passionate, majestic and romantic – and difficult to play. In this performance the pianist gave full rein to its many moods, and he was rewarded with an ovation from the audience.

The Sonatine by the French composer Maurice Ravel was first performed in 1906. It is subtle, stylish and sophisticated - very French, in fact - and it is formidably difficult, especially the last of the three movements. Spencer Myer handled all this with virtuoso brilliance, producing a memorable performance.

Two American composers completed the programme. Samuel Barber, best known for his Adagio for Strings, was represented by the four pieces called Excursions. Written in the 1940’s, these are based on American folk and jazz idioms. They are all attractive, and the gem is No. 3, which has its roots in a poignant folk song, Streets of Laredo, about a dying cowboy.

This was a good and interesting choice for the programme, as were the Three Rags by William Bolcomb, who was born in 1938. These bright and entertaining pieces are part of the revival of interest in the 19th century ragtime music of Scott Joplin and others. They were played by Spencer Myer with great zest and panache.

He gave an encore that was a complete contrast: Giovanni Sgambati’s arrangement of the calm, ethereal Dance of the Blessed Spirits from Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice. Beautiful music, beautifully played. - Michael Green

FOM acknowledges the support of the National Lottery Distribution Trust Fund