By Steven E. Gilbert
The final installment of this year’s Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concerts at Fresno State, jointly sponsored by the university’s Armenian Studies Program and the Hamazkayin Armenian Cultural and Educational Society, had the added significance of coinciding with the anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. It featured Vardan Mamikonian, a remarkable pianist born 26 years ago in Yerevan, Armenia, who now lives in Paris.
At the center of the program were the complete “Gaspard de la Nuit” of Ravel and an entire opus of Chopin etudes. Neither is an everyday occurrence; the quality of the performance was even rarer. The Ravel, fiendish in subject matter as well as pianistic difficulty, communicated an eerie excitement-suppressed fistfuls of notes in “Ondine,” the sinister, evenly repeated gallows motif in “Le Gibet,” and the wicked scamperings of “Scarbo.”
Chopin’s second set of 12 etudes, Op. 25, includes several that are often played singly, perhaps as encores, but it takes a certain command and concentration to play the whole dozen in succession.
Each was executed brilliantly, with control and bravura in all the right, respective places. The performance was marred only by insistent rounds of applause from half the audience, which kept missing the cue from the other half that the place for ovation was at the end of the set.
That there was, and a standing one, even though Mamikonian had another piece to play. This, the “Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise,” also by Chopin, was a perfect built-in encore, just as Debussy’s “Estampes” provided the perfect prelude.