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Thursday, 08 November 2012 16:07

Concert review: Pianist Peter Henderson sounds out French Impressionism at Maryville University Friday, November 4

Concert review: Pianist Peter Henderson sounds out French Impressionism at Maryville University Friday, November 4
Written by Gary Liam Scott
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The art of the solo recital lives on, and it will likely do so as long as human beings value talent, skill and personal expression.  Crafting a recital devoted to the work of a single composer poses a particular challenge, but Peter Henderson’s choice of Claude Debussy (1862-1918) formed an exciting demonstration of the rich and stimulating palette from which this most visually-oriented composer gifted us.

Few composers have drawn inspiration from such wide sources as Debussy; it is a small wonder that he chose to befriend painters, philosophers and poets as well as musicians, recognizing that music is part of the spectrum of the arts, much as sound and light both emanate from wave sources.  Debussy’s choice of titles vividly illustrate the breadth of his active imagination:  The Isle of Joy, Footsteps in the Snow, The Girl with Flaxen Hair, Gardens in the Rain, Reflections in the Water, The Sunken Cathedral, Golliwog’s Cake-Walk, and—my personal favorite—What the West Wind Saw.  The compositions bearing these and other diverse appellations filled Henderson’s ample program.  It is interesting to note that, in the case of his Preludes, Debussy chose to place his titles at the end of each piece, not at the beginning.  Notable also is the fact that Debussy generally eschewed the label of "Impressionism", often styling himself simply as "musicien francais".  It was abundantly clear that Debussy provides a complete smorgasbord to nourish the imaginations of us all.

Henderson’s technique is formidable and his memory is prodigious.  He exhibited tremendous flexibility and smoothness with his hands, but was able to produce more thunderous effects when necessary.  His onstage presence is affable and relaxed, which contributed greatly to the listeners’ enjoyment, particularly for students in the audience.  The acoustics at Maryville Auditorium are perhaps not overly conducive to projecting loud and soft dynamic effects, but they are adequate, and the acoustics seemed to favor the lush pedal effects often favored by Debussy.

Henderson’s recital, presented at Maryville University on November 4, 2012, as part of the Music at Maryville series, was significant not only for its artistic value, but for its educational value as well.  Henderson provided explanatory details about the nature and origins of each piece, as well as pertinent information about the life and creative process of Debussy.  The life of this genius, surely one of the most fertile minds that has ever graced this planet, included personal challenges and a range of activities that embraced not only the arts and societies, but even the presumed leadership of an organization still shrouded in mystery, the Prieure de Sion.  What made Henderson’s comments so effective was the fact that they were clear, pithy and to the point.  He maintained an excellent feel of just how much information to provide.  Maryville University is to be commended on not only engaging such a skilled communicator for its teaching faculty, but also for providing a venue to share his and others’ talents with the community at large.

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