David Fray at Symphony Center- a renowned pianist performs a varied program

On June 5, 2016, French pianist David Fray performed at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, in the last of this seasons  Symphony Center Presents Presents PowerShares QQQ Piano Series programs, a terrific concert of Bach, Boulez, Schoenberg, Brahms, with a Bach-Brioni encore. This was a very well conceived and well-arranged concert, comprised of four different sets of piano pieces, with the deep Bach flowing effortlessly into the dramatic Boulez before the intermission. Then, after the break, came the Schoenberg, his last link with the traditionally melodious before he composed only the atonal, followed by the meditative yet harmonious Brahms. The encore, lyrically lovely, ended a deeply satisfying concert by the intense and exquisitely talented Fray.

Pianist David Fray

First on the program were 8 selections from J.S. Bach’s “The Well-Tempered Clavier”, (WTC) Book 1. The WTC Book 1 and it’s companion The WTC Book 2 are a collection of two series of Preludes and Fugues in all major and minor keys, composed for solo keyboard (clavier- at the time a harpsichord, clavichord or organ). The first set were composed in 1722, the second some 20 years later. Sources are in agreement that “The collection is generally regarded as being among the most influential works in the history of Western classical music”. Each Prelude is followed by a Fugue in the same key. It is noted in the literature that the WTC encompasses a wide range of styles, and the best -known piece from either book is the first prelude of Book 1, the first one performed by Fray, the C major. The eight preludes and fugues he performed (no.’s 1-8) were, in his hands, more than an intellectual challenge. They reflected a deep source of virtuosity and inspiration, and were a remarkable source of beauty for the listening audience.

The second set of piano pieces before the intermission consisted of Pierre Boulez’ “Notations”, 12 pieces for piano, composed in 1945, a work of 12  “miniature” movements, the total lasting 11 minutes. The work has been described as an exploration of  “many of the different aspects of musical composition and thought”. From the mixture of tempos in the opening movement to the alterations between simple and complex tonalities, the work is said to have heralded many of the intricate ideas Boulez pioneered, and for which the beloved composer/conductor became justifiably respected throughout the world. Watching Fray almost attack the Steinway as he opened the set  and stampeded through the notations was a superior experience in listening/observing. Fray holds his hands absolutely still and aloft (often at his sides) until every last note has died away.

After the intermission, Fray, working hard, his cherubic countenance fiercely concentrated above his erect slim frame, his forceful hands with visibly long fingers flying over the piano, performed “Drie Klavierstucke”, (Three piano pieces), (Op.11) by Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, 1909, approximately 14 minutes in duration. The first two are often cited as marking the point at which Schoenberg “abandoned the last vestiges of traditional tonality”. The third piece juxtaposes extremes of mood and is dramatic and emotional. Fray handled all three with seemingly intense inner feeling, sometimes propelled nearly off the bench with the force of just one of his hands.

David Fray

Finally, the formal program was brought to a close with “7 Fantasien" (Fantasies), (Op. 116), by Johannes Brahms, 1892, one of the sets of piano miniatures which are considered by many to be among “the most brilliant gems of his output as a composer of piano music”. They are contemplative and philosophic, beginning with an almost unrelenting energy, followed by mesmerizing passages of astonishing beauty, coming to an exultant finale. At times Fray seemed to be playing with his right hand while conducting himself with his left, as he brought the piece to it’s conclusion.

After several bows and curtain calls, the impossibly boyish-looking musician sat down to an encore dedicated to the memory of Pierre Boulez, who passed away this year. The Bach-Busoni Chorale Prelude “Nunn komm, der Heiden Heiland”, (“Now come, Saviour of the Heathens”) (BMV 659), one of the most well-known of Bach’s choral preludes, approximately 5 minutes long was  transcribed by  Italian pianist-composer Ferruccio Busoni. The melody is first documented as a hymn based upon Gregorian chant in the twelfth century, and is hauntingly sentimental and compellingly evocative of the realms of sacred music from which it stemmed.


For information about great upcoming  concerts by the CSO and it’s attendant programs and series, go to www.cso.org


Photos courtesy of Paolo Roversi 



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