Ashburnham, MA, 15 October 2007. For her début appearance on the Frederick Collection's Historical Piano Concerts series here yesterday

afternoon, the final one of this fall's season, Sydney, Australia, native Sarah Grunstein chose a Pleyel built in Paris in 1845.

Pleyel was Chopin's favorite make of piano: the company's owner was his friend and the dedicatee of his Préludes Op. 28 (1836-39); the 1st half of the program was devoted to his music. Although the works were not presented in chronological order, all pre-date the instrument. The "Aeolian Harp" Etude, Op. 25/1 (1832-36) opened, followed by the Ballade No. 4 in f, Op. 52 (1842). Next were the Four Mazurkas, Op. 24 (1834-35), followed by the Berceuse in Db, Op. 57 (1843-44), and the Ballade No. 1 in g (1831) concluded the set. The 2nd half was devoted to Schumann's Carnaval, Op. 9 (1834-35).

Dr. Grunstein, a Steinway Concert Artist, now resides in Cambridge, MA, and is on the faculty of the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, MA. Her performance was remarkable in a number of ways. Prior to playing each half, she talked briefly and articulately about the instrument and each of the works, going into greater detail for the Schumann. Her informative and astute comments demonstrated her thorough knowledge of the works, and she skillfully captured the listeners' interest and attention. She played entirely from memory, a practice that is becoming rarer and rarer these days, demonstrating her complete mastery of the pieces. She kept the audience not only enraptured, but attentive to her wishes, curbing with her body language its impulse to applaud too quickly and too frequently and thus destroy the sonic spell, another skill all too rarely well-practiced.

Then there was the playing; nothing perfunctory here. Grunstein made the instrument sing this music and render it in a way that revealed features and nuances not always noticed, especially in the Carnaval, to whose diverse cast of colorful characters she had introduced us. She said, and showed, that it was a thrill for her to play these works on this instrument and understand and communicate the sounds that were in the composers' minds when they, both virtuoso pianists, wrote and performed them themselves. Her superb pianism and the special sound of the instrument, both melodious and powerful with a warmth that modern pianos do not have, combined to create an experience that will not soon be forgotten, but that was all too soon over.

The listeners were equally thrilled, and Grunstein consented to play an encore for them: the Aria from J.S. Bach's "Goldberg" Variations, S. 988 (1741-42). She said that while it might seem strange that she was choosing to play this work on this instrument at the conclusion of this program, she was doing what both of these composers did every day, for they believed that one had to master Bach in order to compose, and they esteemed Bach as the greatest composer of all time. She made the Pleyel seem right for its beauty, too. Remarkable!

           -- Marvin J. Ward, Classical Voice of New England, October 2007


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