Friday, November 1, 2013

Wael Farouk Review

Wael Farouk
Roosevelt University, Ganz Hall
October 26, 2013, 7:30pm

All Rachmaninoff program
  • Variations on a theme of Corelli, Op. 42
  • 10 Preludes, Op. 23
  • 13 Preludes, Op. 32
Two Encores:

  • Vivaldi-Bach-Volodos: "Siciliano"
  • Verdi-Liszt: Rigoletto Paraphrase

What's the most important instrument in classical music?

The room.

I have to preface this review with that because I think the room played a big part in the performance I heard last Saturday. Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall is a small recital hall with very resonant acoustics and a 9 foot Steinway. Those elements combine to give a listening experience of nearly seismic power. If you ever want rich, dark, romantic music to sound rich and dark and romantic, this is the room and piano combination you want to play it on. That is, if you are interested in playing delicate, or highly ornamented music, and you want everyone in the hall to hear you, though you could do it, this is probably not your first choice. (You'd probably want something a little less resonant, like the hall at Sherwood Conservatory, the old PianoForte Chicago recital hall, or if you can manage it, Pick-Staiger.)

That said, I first heard Wael Farouk during a doctorate recital (?) a few years ago where he played the Bach-Busoni Chaconne. His playing was rich and powerful and he had great speed. Wow. When I had a chance to hear him again, I went, and this time, three (?) years later, I can say that he didn't lose anything.

His program (the first of five recitals including the complete piano works of Rachmaninoff good man!) was exclusively the kind of dark romantic music for which this hall is perfect, and all evening (the concert started at 7:30 and blasted almost until 10) he let pour a torrent of highly colored passagework, lightning crisp octaves, thunderous chord playing and bravura–oh, the bravura.

A lot of musicians like their power. Pianists and organists in particular because they have some of the loudest instruments. (Brass players are also in this category, but they don't get to solo as much.) And I'll admit, playing big can be fun, so much so, that it can often be pretty hard for a musician to switch from extremely powerful playing to that which requires delicacy, and the poor or merely mediocre soloists just don't do it. They just don't play delicately. Now, some musicians play with delicacy, but when they do it's palpable that they're just biding their time until they can get back to playing loudly. Farouk was better than that fellow, but in my notes, here's how I put it:

"[The C minor prelude] had all the right colors and a huge amount of energy and momentum at the outset. Toward the end he demonstrates that he CAN do light, but that he wasn't really interested in showcasing that skill."

[A flat major prelude] "Following that thought, his volume 'swells' were very extreme and very often:  p<ff>p every five measures. (For example)"

[E flat minor prelude] "Good god, the speed! I can hardly tell what's happening! 90% speed and power, 10% delicacy. (At some point, someone will produce a ratio. It's probably 62/38.)"

[E minor prelude] "Great speed and power, but the clarity and articulation are lost on this room that only permits big strokes. Beautiful in the dark moments, but the climax might have benefited from a little less haste, more speed."

[G major prelude] "In his balance in the climax, I could hear his nurturing the multiple parts. Thank you."

[G sharp minor prelude] "A little rushy-thrusty, but the balance of tone makes up for it."

Interpretively, the preludes (in general) don't require a huge amount of intense analysis to bring them to life. If you've got a bright musical imagination like Mr. Farouk, all the better, but in general, besides strong technique and basic musicality, they don't take much to get off the ground. He sounded great here. That fire and oomph was well placed with the majority of the program. Unfortunately, during the first, biggest piece, the Corelli Variations, the overall architecture got a little lost. The inexorable drive toward the climaxes leading up to the climax, I didn't feel.

Shaky architecture in the first piece aside, he's an astonishing player with terrific power, imagination and occasional flights of delicacy. Are my musical values reflected in his playing? No. Would I see Mr. Farouk again? Absolutely. Sometimes you don't want to go to a concert and hear yourself. If I wanted to do that, I'd probably just stay at home. I have a piano. (But it ain't no 9 foot Steinway, though.)

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