John Jensen in a Concert of American Music

Having appeared in recital at Hidden Valley two years ago, at which time he blew us away with a rich and rewarding performance of Charles Ives’ “Concord Sonata,” pianist John Jensen was back among us last night to present a two-hour concert featuring the music of Carl Ruggles, Aaron Copland, Carleton Macy, Rick Yramategui and the less familiar Sonata for Piano No. 1 by Charles Ives. Unfortunately, I was teaching until 7:15 pm and only arrived  at 8:00 pm in time to hear most of Aaron Copland’s Piano Sonata, but too late to hear the first work on the program by Carl Ruggles, his “Evocations — Four Chants for Piano.”

Since Copland’s Piano Sonata can be an irritating work in the wrong hands, it is pleasing to report that in Jensen’s performance we witnessed the true inner logic of this great sonata. Jensen succeeded in mastering Copland’s compulsive experimentation in various compositional styles, and gave us a compelling performance, in which the great final movement, Andante sostenuto, came to life as Jensen revealed its gorgeous sonorities and mysterious tonal expression.

In the next work on the program, Jensen shared the limelight with composer Carleton Macy performing Macy’s “2” for piano four hands. Yes, you read this correctly — “2” not “Two.” Perhaps like Kazimir Malevich’s famous 1918 painting at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, consisting of a totally blank white canvas, devoid of any features, onto which the viewer can project any feelings, thoughts or ideas that come to mind, Mr. Macy wants us to imagine a variety of dual properties — two people at one piano, two movements, etc. Actually, in addressing the audience he gave an explanation, which I am not going to reveal to you, because it is of little importance. What really mattered is that after the aimless wandering about that occurs in most of Copland’s Sonata, Macy’s work for piano four hands was utterly compelling. Suddenly there was rhythmic pulse, rhythmic organization, charming and interesting melodic patterns, and two fine performers — Mr. Macy, the composer, and brilliant pianist John Jensen. The work seemed almost too brief, and this is always a great sign when a work does not overstay its welcome.

After intermission, we had a real treat — violinist Farkhad Khudyev and pianist Jensen performing Rick Yramategui’s “Theme and Variations” for violin and Piano. Occasionally, we had to try and forgive pianist Jensen for overplaying when the two soloists were supposed to be equal partners, but fortunately the work had two variations where both soloists played unaccompanied, so we had an opportunity to hear Khudyev in all his glory with passionate, expressive playing combined with his magnificent technical skills and amazingly accurate high notes and harmonics. We already know what a great conductor he is, now we need to hear more of his playing in recital. His playing seemed so natural and inevitable.

The last work on the program was Charles Ives Sonata No. 1. I have to admit that this is the first time I have ever heard this huge (35-minute) Sonata, and I am not sure I was really up to it, after so much had gone before. Following Rick Yramategui’s “Theme  and Variations for violin and Piano in such a fine performance, the Ives Sonata seemed to go on and on forever.

John Jensen, we love you, and admire your amazing skills, but I could have done without the Ives Sonata. Well, in response to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience, he gave us a nice encore, “Crepuscule” by Thelonius Monk. What a great way to end the evening.

End

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