The smoke from the Camp Fire - which is 200 miles away, but brought visibility down to about a mile here on Saturday - has slowly begun to clear, and I ventured down to the Trianon in San Jose on Sunday afternoon for a piano recital sponsored by the Steinway Society, having chosen it for the interesting repertoire.
The young pianist, Henry Kramer, was jacketless and wore a high-collared white shirt with too-long sleeves. At first I was inclined to think of his playing style as heavy, but then I realized that his clean and emphatic articulation was overshadowing the lightness he could bring to filigree passages by Debussy or Liszt, and that it would be more accurate to describe his style as thick and full.
The virtuosity here was demonstrated when he got to "Clair de lune" in Debussy's Suite bergamasque. The sound was remarkably, and consistently, light and hazy despite the clarity of the touch. Though each note was distinct, the feel was entirely impressionistic.
Elsewhere in the suite, and in the far more harmonically murky L'isle joyeuse, Kramer made the most of Debussy's occasional excursions into rhythmic melodism. That's the inevitable, and highly welcome, result of his emphasis on articulation.
Another large portion of the program was given over to Liszt: late Liszt, pieces you rarely hear: transcriptions of two orchestral pieces from his enormous oratorio Christus, a cradle song and the march of the Three Kings. The former was a quiet piece filled with shining light, and the latter jutted formally until succeeded by a more rhapsodic middle section and ending with big shifting chords.
There was also a piece by Scriabin, played straight, as far as I could tell, without the rhythmic irregularity which tends to bring this composer alive for me. That would be alien to Kramer's performing style. The program said the piece was the Sonata No. 2, but I think it was probably something else. (I'm not a Scriabin expert by any means.)
But the music I was really there to hear was Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, a favorite piece that received about as clearly-shaped and finely-chiseled a performance as it's ever likely to get. Had Kramer put out road signs, he could not have communicated the shape and direction of this music any more clearly. His ability to play loud and dramatic passages forcefully yet without distortion or abandon, then turn the same controlled style to softer and gentler ends in other passages, assisted but did not fully explain his command over this large meandering work's form. The thunderous conclusion wrapped the concert up with a bang.