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Music review: Mark Robson in recital at Piano Spheres

April 13, 2011 |  1:05 pm

The heart of Mark Robson’s touching Piano Spheres recital on Tuesday at Zipper Hall at the Colburn School came in the first half when he performed Bartók’s "Four Dirges" interwoven with seven memorial pieces from György Kurtág’s multi-volume “Játékok” (“Games”).

RobsonRobson dedicated the two sets to composer Daniel Catán, who died suddenly over the weekend at age 62, and with whom he had worked. “I have not fully absorbed it yet,” he told the audience. “Daniel’s warmth, the positive nature of his work and his engagement with society were extremely valuable to Los Angeles' audiences.”

The specific tributes in Kurtág’s signature fragmentary style had titles that suggested a heavy night -– “Farewell, S.W.,” “The very last conversation with László Dörnyei” -– but in Robson’s clear-eyed and moving accounts, they never became lugubrious or even solemn. And in “Organ and bells in memory of Doctor László Dobszay,” Robson demonstrated the death-defying power of memory transmuted into art. 

The recital opened with a sparkling account of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Prelude. Robson’s secure touch was also on display in Anders Brodsgaard’s brightly lit “Pyro-Mani” and in Philippe Bodin’s hypnotic etude “Pools.”

After intermission, Robson offered Vera Ivanova’s “Aftertouch,” a striking exploration of the piano’s endless capacity for producing short and sustained sounds. Ivanova, born in 1977, appeared for a congratulatory handshake with the pianist.

Robson’s premiere of his own “dolcissimo” conjured a nocturnal dreamscape, ending magically when he brushed the treble strings inside the keyboard. Even without hummable tunes, Charles Wuorinen’s suite “The Haroun Piano Book,” in Robson’s hands, was subtly shaped and rhythmically vital.

The recital concluded with Sciarrino’s “Anamorfosi,” masterfully combining two of the most life-affirming scores from the last century: Ravel’s “Jeux d’eau,” dreamily played in the right hand, and Nacio Herb Brown’s “Singin’ in the Rain,” played in the left. Engaging and beautiful, the piece seemed a portrait in sound of the man Robson described in his remarks -- Catán himself.


An appreciation of Daniel Catán by Times music critic Mark Swed

Daniel Catán dies at 62; opera composer and librettist

-- Rick Schultz

Photo: Mark Robson in 2009. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times