Pianist Jean-Philippe Collard Plays Schumann & Chopin at Sunset Center

Does the life of a famous concert pianist seem glamorous? Well, the reality is that although he was booked for the Carmel Music Society two years ago, his management, Seldy Cramer Artists of San Francisco, was unable to arrange for any other west coast appearances. Thus, Mr. Collard, in coming to perform for the Carmel Music Society on Sunday afternoon, was executing what is called in the artists management business, a “run out” — not one in a series of well planned, coordinated concerts in relatively close proximity, but a single concert, often with long travel distances involved.

So it was on this occasion for Jean-Philippe Collard. In a three-day period, he flew from his home in Paris to San Francisco (that’s an 11-hour flight) performed the one afternoon recital and then returned to Paris the following day (another 11-hour flight). Thus, if Mr. Collard appeared a bit rumpled and fatigued as he walked out on stage at Sunset Center, he had every reason to do so. Looking exhausted, it was noted that as he sat down at the piano to perform his first work, he carefully raised the music desk (the rack which supports music scores when artists play from the sheet music). We later learned from him that the piano on this occasion sounded very loud and minimally voiced, so raising the music desk tended to deflect the sound away from him.

The first half of his recital consisted of two masterpieces by Schumann, the Arabesque in C Major, Op. 18, and the great Fantasie in C Major, Op. 18. Fighting through his jet lag, Collard bravely tackled these two works with an aggressive mastery that squeezed out every bit of emotion and majesty. Especially memorable was the lovely slow movement that ended the great Fantasie in C Major, which received a tender and expressive performance.

The second half of the recital was devoted to three works by Chopin: The B-flat minor Sonata No. 2, the profound Nocturne in C minor, and the mighty Ballade No. 4 in F minor. Although Collard played the first movement of the Chopin Sonata faster than we normally hear it, it was totally convincing and persuasive. In the Scherzo that followed, Collard gave us a lovely performance of the trio section. The Marche funèbre third movement was a profoundly moving experience that called up mental images of the narrow, tree-shaded lanes of Père-Lachaise cemetery where Chopin is buried (also Édith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gioacchino Rossini and hundreds of other distinguished people). The enigmatic final movement of this Sonata (often referred to as “The Wind Over the Graves”) received an appropriately enigmatic performance.

The Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48 is an amazing piece, and it received a profound and moving performance by Collard. The ending work of the afternoon’s program was an aggressive performance of the Ballade in F Minor that pulled out all the stops and brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation and lots of bravos. Collard, as exhausted as he was, gave us one encore, the beautiful Liszt transcription of Schumann’s song Widmung (“Dedication”). It was gorgeous!

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