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Hochman creates magic at Bard

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Mon Feb 27th, 2017

Benjamin Hochman

Benjamin Hochman, currently in residence at Bard, began his Monday evening piano recital at Bard’s Lásló Z. Bitó Conservatory Building with J.S. Bach’s French Suite in G major, BWV 816. The first six of the seven movements were played with a later Romantic, lyrical frisson while the concluding Gigue of all these dance movements returned to a traditional Baroque interpretation. Hochman possesses an immaculate clarity of fingering and tone, the pressure of hitting the ivories being extraordinarily even and clear, so that each note hangs distinctly in air.

Hochman next selected Six Little Pieces, op. 19 by Arnold Schoenberg. I thought this choice unusual, yet I was captivatingly entranced by the mystery of “Langsam” with such mystery that it escalated into exaltation. “Rasch, aber leicht” swirled into such rushing heights that my staid preconceptions about Schoenberg fractured and fragmented.

After the briefest of breaks, Hochman swung into Robert Schumann’s 1838 Kinderszenen, op. 15, a dozen short pieces about young children with a concluding last word from a poet. These charming vignettes offer quick-sketch portraits of children’s personalities in a classroom. The most-often played is the number “Dreaming” while the final marvelous conceit of a tired child falling asleep from lessons remains the most cyclically periodic before the poet magically resolves the harmony of the first movement in a different (adult) key. Investing each brief piece with a different emotion creates a musical cubism in which emotion remains the lynchpin. Hochman elegantly delved in and out of the angelic angles, painting panoply of emotion. Hochman ran Mozart’s Adagio in B minor, K. 540, written in 1787, immediately into the Schumann as if it was an epilogue, yet it was foreshadowing precedent.

Hochman turned to Leós Janáček’s late On an Overgrown Path, rooted in Moravian folk tunes and a modernized Schumannesque technique presented in a meditative manner, plunging the listener into an unfamiliar bucolic and religious landscape. Hochman played three movements from this work: "Our Evenings," "Come With Us!," and "The Madonna of Frydek." The mystery of these pieces made me link back to the Schoenberg pieces previously played.

Updating to the contemporary, Hochman played a short piece, Breeze of Delight, by the American composer Peter Lieberson who passed away six years ago. This delightful wind of arpeggios somehow linked back to the Mozart and Schumann.

The recital concluded with the second Allegro movement from Franz Schubert's famous Impromptu in E-flat major, op. 90. This charming work constructs a perpetuum mobile that Hochman tackled with liquid dexterity. It is as if the musician and audience were ensnared in some magical music box. And so we were. With sudden silence reality itself sounded shocking.  Enthusiastic applause demanded two bows.