Simon Ghraichy Luminous Debut at Carnegie Hall

Nelida Nassar  10.14.2015

The Lebanese-Mexican pianist Simon Ghraichy’s Carnegie Hall debut, “Liszt and the Americas,” promises an evening of rhapsody, reflection and immersion in the ether of Romantic piano music. When I asked Ghraichy why he is highlighting Lizst and the Americas, he immediately replied that weaving the music of the Old World with the New and presenting their inter-connections was essential for this initial concert. Specifically, he wants to recreate Liszt’s rich dialogue with the composers Godowski, Gottschalk, Lecuona, Ponce and Villa-Lobos. Furthermore, the recital is also an ode to a composer who yearned to perform in the Americas, but who, because of his fear of the sea, never did.

Ghraichy begins the program with its longest piece, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, which was published with a dedication to Robert Schumann, in return for Schumann’s dedication of his Fantasie in C major, Op. 17 to Liszt. The sonata, one of the pinnacles of Romantic music, was constructed on no idea greater than that of pure music presented as a single movement of non-stop melody lasting half-an-hour. It is widely considered, however, that the piece still basically fits the mold of a traditional four-movement sonata. A work of emotional extremes — but of extremes that are close-knit and have a clear expressive focus — its expressive range, its spectrum of colors, and its structural subtleties, as well as its pyrotechnics, are perfectly suited to Ghraichy’s passionate temperament and virtuosity.

The pianist places the Lizst sonata in dialogue with Gottschalk’s  Morte!!, Op. 60, a work that draws on elements of Creole, African-American, French, Caribbean, and Southern U.S. culture, thereby revealing the breathtaking scope of Gottschalk’s piece. The pairing leads one to ponder the difference and similarities in the works of the two composers, especially in their operatic interpretations of piano music.  It brings out Morte’s disarming reticence, although the stentorian close to its paraphrase is certainly Lisztian in amplitude and attack. Ghraichy interprets Morte’s steady funereal beat and recurring bottom pedal Fs with elegant sensuality and refinement, creating a winning blend of fine pianism and infectious music..

Interwoven with the above works are short, moody pieces by Godowski, Gottschalk, Lecuona, Ponce and Villa-Lobos, presented as miniature tableaux vivants. They vacillate between expressions of hesitation, uncertainty, melancholy, sensuality and exuberance. The notion that music transcends all boundaries may be a cliche, but the universal reach of Ghraichy’s programming and performance reminds us of the truth at its core.

Ghraichy will also sign his new CD, “Duels,” on the Dutch record label Challenge, featuring compositions which emerged from or express a basic tension or polarity.  For example, Schumann’s Kreisleriana op.16, portrays Schumann’s love for Clara, which was frustrated by her father’s refusal to grant her permission to marry the composer, and the music shifts between hysterical and meditative moods. Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor conveys the struggle between a funeral march and the positive light of a bright day, while his transcription of the Allegretto of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony reflects a moment in Lizst’s life when he was moving away from an existence devoted to pleasure to one devoted to piety and introspection.

Concert Thursday October 15, 2015 – Carnegie Hall – 8.00 p.m. – Weill Recital Hall