For the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival on Monday, Lori Sims presented a program of American classics, written between 1906 and 1945: music she loves, respects, and deeply understands.
Her playing is extraordinary: authoritative, insightful, and endlessly interesting. Her thoughtful phrasing makes complete sense of the music, and her technical command of the instrument gives her artistry full expression. Robust basses, sparkling trebles, velvety legatos, crisp staccatos, and vast array of tonal shadings reveal the artistry she brings to every aspect of her music-making.
Take, for example, the “Three-Page Sonata” of Charles Ives. The work captures a Fourth of July celebration in Ives’ childhood home, Danbury, Conn., in the early years of the last century. In the fast outer sections, ragtime and a circus band peeked through. The middle slow section took us into another world, its serene reverie perfectly captured.
Ives said the sonata was intended to “knock the mollycoddles out of their boxes and kick out the softy ears” and kick and knock them it does.
Sims’ intelligent, passionate playing illuminated the wildly complicated score, which is full of 10-note chords, insistent dissonances, and polyrhythms. Despite the sonata’s complexity, lyricism prevailed.
Ben Weber’s “Fantasia” (Variations), Op. 25, demonstrates that a 12-tone work does not have to be relentlessly atonal, but can rub shoulders with Scriabin and Ravel. Even in the densest passages, Sims let in light and air. Her clear architectural conception illuminated the score.
Barber’s “Excursions,” Op. 20, brought in American folk idioms — the cowboy tune, boogie woogie, the blues– “spectacular nuggets of our history,” Sims observed. Throughout the work she reminded us of what a supreme melodist Barber was.
A stunning performance of Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s rarely heard but brilliant one-movement sonata ended the program.
It’s hard to imagine a more convincing performance of these American classics.
– By Zaide Pixley, Special to the Kalamazoo Gazette