Pianist Joseph Moog's star continues to rise in Vancouver

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      A Vancouver Recital Society presentation. At the Vancouver Playhouse on Sunday, April 12

      Local concertgoers haven’t enjoyed such a glut of Mitteleuropean confectionary since those long-ago days when Notte’s Bon Ton was located next door to the Orpheum, rather than on a nondescript stretch of West Broadway. Still, it was a little piece of Parisian patisserie that sealed the deal for this listener: Joseph Moog is a pianist to watch.

      Prior to that—the second of two encores—I’d been having a small problem with Moog’s program. The most musically interesting selection, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor, the “Pathétique”, came first, followed by an absolute flood of virtuoso showcases from 19th-century pianist-composers Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, and Anton Rubinstein.

      Admittedly, this onslaught of impossible stretches, hammered octaves, and elastic glissandos was broken in the second half by Gabriel Fauré’s Theme and Variations in C Sharp Minor, but that in itself wasn’t necessarily a smart programming move. In contrast to the works that bracketed it, Chopin’s Sonata No. 1 in C Minor and Rubinstein’s Fantasia on Hungarian Folk Melodies, the Fauré seemed threadbare and simplistic rather than decorous and refreshing.

      And, let’s face it, Moog is such a prodigiously gifted instrumentalist that he doesn’t need to show off quite so strenuously. Blame it on his youth, perhaps: he’s only 27. Nonetheless, the Beethoven piece suggested that he’s wise beyond his years, and in this concert I would have liked to have heard more wisdom and less wizardry—even if that’s rather like complaining about a surfeit of Sachertorte.

      In a postconcert Q&A moderated by the Vancouver Recital Society’s Leila Getz, Moog revealed that he approached his introductory sonata the way a conductor might approach a Beethoven symphony: by attempting to tease out its inner voicings, illuminating the work’s rich counterpoint through clarity of interpretation and variety of tone. He succeeded brilliantly. As one audience member pointed out, the third, “Adagio cantabile” movement was especially luscious, although it was not so much a reinvention of the score as a faithful re-creation of Beethoven’s original intent.

      Much the same could be said of Moog’s approach to the Liszt, the Chopin, and the Rubinstein—the last heard here in Moog’s own intelligently truncated arrangement. These were pieces designed to wow, and they did.

      Yet they were not without substance: Moog’s take on Liszt’s Réminiscences de Norma suggested that a minifestival devoted to opera transcriptions might not be a bad idea, while in Chopin’s first sonata the German pianist discovered some unexpectedly jazzy rhythms. (Again, this was explained in the postconcert talk, when Moog professed his admiration for African-American pianist Art Tatum, the swing-era innovator and Chopin fan who first infused jazz with a classical touch.)

      Things got even jazzier with that aforementioned second encore, Alexis Weissenberg’s arrangement of chanson superstar Charles Trenet’s “En avril à Paris”. A boulevardier’s fantasy of Gershwinesque elegance, this sweet little dessert suggested two things: that I dropped the ball by not hearing Yun-Chin Zhou play Weissenberg’s complete Trenet cycle in March, and that Moog’s a musician whose talent knows few limits.