Seventeen-year old soloist at Salon Piano Series exceeds high expectations
As I looked around the showroom at Farley’s House of Pianos Sunday afternoon at 4, I could not remember the last time — or if ever — so many had been seated for a Salon Piano Series event.
Then again, I could not remember an SPS more hyped…er, well-publicized.
The object of the packed audiences’ intense curiosity was 17-year old Maxim Lando (pictured above, courtesy of Matt Dine), a true phenomenon whose youthful resume contains more than the standard list of piano competitions conquered. For example, in 2017, the 14-year old Lando (ok, so his 15th birthday was the next day) played with Lang Lang and Chick Corea at Carnegie Hall. Flash forward all of two years and a few months, and it was just a couple of weeks ago that Lando sold out Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center on his own.
Happily, he brought that same program to Madison; it’s not just a matter of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but if you’re going to bust your chops learning Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes,” one might as well get the most mileage out of it.
But the afternoon began with a brief, if challenging modern rarity, the Concert Etude Op. 40, No. 3 (“Toccatina”) by Nikolai Kapustin. After being introduced, Lando strode purposefully to the piano, gave a quick bow, sat and immediately launched into the 1984 finger-buster. Virtuosity aside, there was real fun, too, with a section that flirted with jazz and tango-ish riffs a la Piazzolla.
As soon as the applause died down, Lando then erupted with a hearty “Hi everyone!” and told us that he never expected to be asked to play in Madison — or to have eight relatives in attendance when he did. He gave some personal insights into the next work, the Sonata No. 30 of Beethoven. This is not the kind of work that attracts most teenagers, particularly if they are blessed with technique to burn. After declaring that it was “one of my favorite pieces,” Lando sat again at the piano and this time gathered his thoughts and focus deliberately before tenderly beginning the introspective Adagio espressivo which opens the piece.
Having quickly established his technical bona fides in the Kapustin, Lando now found multiple opportunities to display an impressive maturity in taking the time to shape phrases unhurriedly and in building the movement’s overall structure. The finale, longest of the three movements, is an unusual theme and variations, and in its course Lando reveled in a sound that could be bright but was never brittle. The piano is a 1950 Steinway that had its soundboard rebuilt a few years ago; Tim Farley said that players affectionately called it “the black dog.” It certainly did not lack for power.
The first half closed with a prelude and an etude by Scriabin, and in the former (Op. 11, No. 11) Lando delivered something we don’t always sense in Scriabin: clarity and transparency. And in the famous Etude, Op. 8, No. 12 Lando made it even clearer. If you don’t know the piece, find it on YouTube or somewhere else; it is a work loved by Vladimir Horowitz, among others, but Lando’s traversal of it can stand the comparison.
The second half consisted solely of the Liszt “Transcendental Etudes,” and why not? — the dozen etudes take a little over an hour to perform. If one is familiar with the famous Chopin Etudes, there is no comparison; Chopin’s are exquisitely constructed miniatures, each attacking a specific technical problem, and rarely lasting more than two or three minutes (he composed two sets of twelve). Liszt’s Etudes are miniature tone poems (indeed, No. 4, “Mazeppa” is well known in its orchestral version), and were a response in part to what Liszt experienced when he heard the violinist Paganini perform; it made him rethink entirely what the piano was possible of producing.
Of course these works are full of some of the thorniest passages one can encounter in the standard repertory, but it was in No. 3, “Paysage,” that Lando’s playing prompted an interesting thought: Is it possible that this young firebrand relishes the lyrical side of his art as much as the virtuosity? It would seem so, and thus he is at the very least on the verge of being a complete artist.
By the time Lando ripped off the fiendishly difficult No. 5, “Feux follets,” I jotted “Unless he makes a major mistake (!) or indulges in some incredibly willful interpretation, I’ve officially run out of things to say.”
Indeed, there is little to add specific to the rest of his wondrous playing. After the instant standing ovation and long applause, Lando reverted to his boundless enthusiasm with “Thank you all for coming — I had a blast! Here’s a little Led Zeppelin.” And that is what we got, a lyrical, than fiery take on the famous “Stairway to Heaven.”
The post-concert reception is always one of the added treats of any Salon Piano Series recital, but this one was particularly lively as listeners groped for words that could begin to describe what they had just heard. My favorite came from one of Madison’s most respected musicians who said, “We just saw history tonight.” I just hope I have enough years left this side of heaven to see what mark Maxim Lando will make.