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The Spirit of Joy

New York
06/16/2023 -  
Déodat de Séverac: Pippermint-Get (Valse brillante)
Cécile Chaminade: Callirhoé: “Pas des écharpes” – La Lisonjera, opus 50 – Pastel, opus 128 – 6 Etudes de concert, opus 35: 2. “Automne” – Menuet galant, opus 129
Jacques Dupont: Soirs à Juan‑les‑Pins, opus 17: 2. “Tango”
Joaquín Turina: Trois Danses andalouses, opus 8 Maurice Ravel: Pièce en forme de habanera (transcr. Daniel Ericourt) – Valses nobles et sentimentales
Emmanuel Chabrier: Bourrée fantasque

Sara Davis Buechner (Pianist)

C. Chaminade/S. D. Buechner

Consort not with female musicians, lest that be taken in by their snares.
Ben Sira, The Book of Wisdom, 190 BC

Sara Davis Buechner is one of those rare pianists who is so deft, modest, affectation–and so concerned with the music–that one forgets how good she is.

The first three works last night were pure Poulenc. Except that Poulenc wasn’t on the program. The names Séverac, Dupont and Chaminade are barely known here. But had Ms. Buechner listed all three composer as “Poulenc” nobody would have questioned it. No, this was not Poulenc the religieux, but Poulenc the child. This was jaunty jesting music, its difficult challenges hidden by a patina of sheer delight.

Yes, the name Cécile Chaminade is relatively notable here. Yet her five short works with the other two composers–all of whom were born around the last 19th Century, dying during the heyday of Schoenberg and Stravinsky–delighted in picayune melodies, and daring virtuosity. All of which was amiable grist for Ms. Buechner’s dextrous fingers.

Those three French composers elevated that somewhat off‑putting title of the recital, “A Salon Evening of Color and Dance.” More important, it gave an entirely different picture of the pianist’s most eclectic choices. After all, Ms. Buechner has premiered works by John Corigliano and Yukiko Nishimura, has toured with the Mark Morris Dance group, played with virtually every international orchestra, and was the first to record Busoni’s transposition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

The latter itself, as difficult as the original, is enough to place her in the halcyon of musicians.

Here, though, she confined herself to works which, while challenging, did not strive for monumentality.

Her Three Andalusian Dances far exceeded the earlier works, simply because Joaquín Turina was one of the last century’s great composers. These, played with an Albéniz lilt, were complicated, yet simple to hear. The final very popular Chabrier Bourrée fantasque is part Spanish, part French and all resonance.

The longest work, Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, was familiar yes, far exceeding Ravel’s reported mediocre pianism. But there was something else, an élan vital which made this hour‑long recital so memorable.

Briefly, the Ms. Buechner allowed Ravel to speak. She played it not with fiery temperament, not with a special Gallic flavor or with undue muscularity. Instead, we had a singular charm, with both affability and amiability.

I have heard this music where the pianist shows the greatest showmanship, the “look-at-me-isn’t-this-fun-music?”, even passion. That is fine. But Sara Davis Buechner played last night with a modest healthiness.

As if to say, “No, this isn’t me. This is Maurice Ravel. Listen to his happy exuberance. Delight in his joyous inspiration.”

Harry Rolnick



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