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Heroic performance matches heroic works

Edward Neeman. Photo: Cassidy Richens

Music / Heroic Masterworks, Edward Neeman, piano. At Tuggeranong Arts Centre, April 6. Reviewed by LEN POWER.

Putting together a program that included two “heroic” works by Beethoven and Chopin, plus an autobiographical work of Grieg, the pianist, Edward Neeman, gave a heroic performance that was quite simply exhilarating.

Australian-American pianist Edward Neeman has performed across five continents, holds a doctorate from the Juilliard School and is currently a piano lecturer at the ANU School of Music.

Beethoven’s “Eroica” Variations was written before his well-known Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica”. The theme for the variations was based on the last movement of his symphony and it was fascinating to hear the wide range of styles in which the theme was presented.

Beethoven dedicated his “Eroica” Symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte and his anti-monarchic government, only to cross out the dedication in a rage when Napoleon declared himself emperor.

Neeman’s performance of the Variations was full of energy and colour and, being so close to the artist in the small Tuggeranong Arts Centre theatre, there was the opportunity to see the complexity of the playing that the work required. It was a thoughtful and memorable performance.

The next item on the program, Grieg’s Ballade, was a subdued, melancholic work that seemed autobiographical.  There were echoes of homesickness for his beloved Norwegian homeland as well as the influence of the time of his musical education in Germany. Neeman’s sensitive playing brought out the emotional depth in this work.

The third item on the program was the well-known “Heroic” Polonaise by Chopin, a work that was also linked with revolution. His lover, the French novelist George Sand, declared that she felt a deep symbolic connection between this polonaise and the 1848 French Revolution.

Neeman gave this work a precise and bright performance that underlined the heroic themes that stir the emotions. It was the perfect end to a superb recital.

Or so we thought…

For an encore, Neeman invited his wife, Stephanie, also a brilliant pianist, to the stage and together, they played a four-hand arrangement of William Bolcom’s 1969 piece, The Serpent’s Kiss, a ragtime inspired work that told the story of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden.

This work was given a playful and thoroughly enjoyable performance by the Neemans, complete with foot-stamping, piano-slapping, unexpected vocalising and physical comedy. It was a delightful conclusion to this heroic concert.

 

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