Habermann was quite astounding
A man of slight build strode calmly to the piano and opened the McMaster Exploration concert series with the rarely performed Fantasia Contrappuntistica (1910) by Ferruccio Busoni. This may well have been the first Canadian performance. Michael Habermann is one of a very few pianists capable of handling the diabolically difficult pieces in Sunday night's programme.
Dr. Paul Rapoport, an acknowledged expert on K.S. Sorabji, is to be highly commended in his efforts over the past two years to book such a phenomenal artist!
Busoni considered the Fantasia his most important piano work. It is thought by some writers to be a "weighty collection of contrapuntal techniques and as such has been studied and dissimilated by many 20th century composers, (including myself). Its value lies in this rather than in the beauty or interest as a concert piece." Habermann's performance belies this nearsighted view. The audience in Convocation Hall was left in numb shock over what it had just experieneced.
Habermann has a big, strong tone that never became harsh with velocity; his fugue entries were clear, good shaping of individual phrases, clean and distinct pedalling that was never overbearing or muddy; all of which contributed to the clarity in revealing the infrastructure of the piece and the long arcing musical line. The performance left people who thought they knew the Fantasia well, eager to go back to the score again.
Manuel M. Ponce's compositions provided an attractive and pleasant respite. Habermann performed Ponce's Mazurka No. 2, Scherzino Mexicano, Intermezzo, A Pesar de Todo (for left hand only), and Balada Mexicana.
Ponce's selections might be described as superb salon music, but Habermann's performance held us fascinated in his remarkable facility, compelling personality and what can be called pianistic finesse, (despite the music.)
Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji is a composer now over 90 years old and still composing! His piano works are known or rather notorious for their incredible complexity and enormous demands made on the technical prowess and stamina of the performer. Habermann played the entire evening's compositions from memory -- a remarkable feat! Even Sorabji said he couldn't memorize his own music to save his life!
Sorabji's Nocturne: Jâmî, had ethereal qualities I hardly thought possible on the piano.
The Prelude, Interlude, Fugue had Habermann rattling perpetual scales up and down the entire span of the piano as if held in a mad, furious, and fortissimo fit with forceful but subdued bravura, not intended as mere display. We barely caught our breath in the Interlude before he launched into a rather curious fugue. Again, that wonderful clarity of Habermann's introduced the subjects and countersubjects, the various inner contrapuntal lines with economical pedaling and beautifully controlled phrasing.
The Valse-Fantaisie (Sorabji's homage to Johann Strauss) was a voluptuously padded, heavily adorned, elaborately ornamented skeleton of a Strauss waltz.
Habermann's calm bearing was deceptive. Who could have imagined upon first impression that he would command such an overwhelming intensity of sound that almost had the piano rebound with each sforzando.
Copyright ©1983 by Elma Miller, all rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission