Other worlds

Robert Bowman

Pianist Robert Bowman began his birthday-celebrating piano recital with a brief dedication: “to the American soldiers and to the Iraqi people.”

This reference to the Bush war in Iraq hung over the concert—especially the first work, Bach’s Partita No. 5 in G major, a piece totally demonstrative of Bach’s unique ability not so much to draw an audience into his subjective emotion as to scatter his notes forth into the space surrounding performer and audience, where they hang in classic perfection and remind one of a crystalline order totally different from that of the world outside.

This mood established, Bowman moved briefly to a brooding Chopin Barcarolle (Op. 60) made especially hard-edged and “Spanish” by its avoidance of melancholy/romantic subdominants ("No. 4 chords") and its fine rolling bass; and from that to a delightful and engaging Beethoven sonata (more “fantasia” than sonata), the Sonata in E-flat, Op. 27, No.1, which demonstrated the composer’s brilliant ability to take the simplest musical figure and turn it into an incredible array of textures and moods, from lyrical to stormy to quasi-operatic.

After intermission, Bowman dipped briefly into Debussy’s dreamy L’Isle Joyeuse and then settled down into Brahms’ grand Third Sonata in F minor. Unlike Bach, Brahms pulls one into the composer’s mind, and you end up listening to both lovely music and to a composer thinking—or, in this case, meditating on the four-note “fate” theme from Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, here syncopated by the superimposition of a three-note pattern and pushed and developed every which way.

So there it was: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Bowman—on his birthday. An impressive pile of music impressively played: both a gift and a much-needed trip to a number of other, more agreeable worlds.