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Misha ist der Dichter

New York
Tisch Center for the Arts
05/15/1999 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Polonaise in C; Rondo a capriccio in G
Robert Schumann: Davidsbuendlertaenze
Frederic Chopin: 4 Mazurkas; Polonaise in F Sharp minor
Sergei Prokofieff: Sonata #7

Misha Dichter (piano)

Pianists come and go and those that we remember for any length of time tend to fall into two categories. There are the technical wizards who display a mastery of their craft that leaves the rest of us feeling somehow inadequate (Liszt, Anton Rubinstein and Thalberg in the nineteenth century; Horowitz and Rachmaninoff in the twentieth and Pollini in our own time) and there are those whose sense of poetry and inner meaning in the music transcend their otherwise obvious technical shortcomings (Artur Rubinstein, Glenn Gould and Bela Bartok all fell into this category). And then there are the true superstars, who combine mastery of the medium with the highest aesthetic sense (Richter and Arrau in the recent past; Zimerman currently). No one would accuse Misha Dichter of being in the first camp, but despite his cavalier style of play from a technical standpoint, he demonstrated last night at the 92nd Street Y a subtle gift for lyric poetry.

Beginning with two pieces of Beethovenian marginalia, Dichter demonstrated a light touch which is, however, not always an accurate one. The Polonaise that he chose is actually a rather pedestrian piece, written simply for money, while the Rage over a lost penny is itself a trifle of dubious parentage. They were really only warm-ups and should have been better left in the green room. When he really began to fashion his lyricism, however, I was impressed with the phrasing and the loving preparation that went into this fine performance of one of my own personal favorite works of Romanticism, Schumann's amazingly psychotic Davidsbuendlertaenze. These "dances of the league of David" are meant as portraits of many of Schumann's closest friends, who formed a literary salon-style circle around him and remained his loyal compatriots even through his most difficult years of mental illness. The dances are alternate versions of the lively and the melancholy and express the two sides of every personality. This is particularly significant when one realizes that all of these "friends" are actually imaginary, creations of Schumann's already defensive personality. The activity of the league is truly poignant when placed in this fictional context and the essence of the poetry behind the music is the wish of Schumann to belong. Dichter did a fine job of conveying this melancholische, contrasting the outgoing sections inspired by Florestan (the flamboyant side of Schumann's personality) with the introspective sadness of Eusebius (these men even appeared in the Neue Zeitschrift fuer Musik as flesh-and-blood music critics). Particularly affecting was the penultimate dance, a recollection of the opening theme. Now the music appears not as a reprise, but rather as if it were new music, transformed by the emotions that have preceded it or, as Charles Rosen argues, as one of the great Romantic representations of memory. Mr. Dichter conveyed the deja-vu quality of this section brilliantly as the listener felt that he had been transformed (and emotionally drained) by the previous events.

After the break, Dichter gave us a set of Chopin pieces which all play with our sense of the downbeat and leave us feeling a little tipsy and disoriented. The mazurka was the most experimental of Chopin's forms and not until the twentieth century and Charles Ives would we hear again this constant emphasis on the weaker rhythmic elements that has a surreal effect upon the listener. Each individual piece was played reasonably well (although the wrong notes and over-pedaling left me less than satisfied) but he took the unwarranted step of combining all of these works as if they were unbroken movements of a whole piece and this left us no time to absorb each one's individual meanings. In the midst of this combination of works the disorientation supplied by the consistent strengthening of the second or third beats began to feel almost normal and one can only hope that this was not the effect for which Dichter was striving, as it really went against the nature of these marvelously off-center episodes.

I wondered how a pianist not of the highest order of technical prowess could possibly choose the fiendishly difficult Prokofieff as a finale, but Mr. Dichter actually pulled off this amazingly challenging piece, written by a man with unnaturally strong fingers. Dichter's poetic approach was particularly appropriate to the second movement (usually drowned by the tour de force outer movements) and he nailed the extremely difficult third movement with its exotic 7/8 time, rapid cross-hand maneuvers and constantly shifting accents at a very rapid pace. Perhaps Dichter is better technically than this total performance would indicate. In any event he understands and projects the poetry buried within the music and this is worth far more than all of the finger exercises in the world.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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