Albert Combrink is a self-professed 20th century pianist, rejoicing in performances of Gershwin and Porter. His latest offering, as part of the Baxter’s Morning Melodies, is thus a slight detour. Having celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin with Chopin 200 he now brings us Campanella – a performance incorporating pieces from Chopin’s contemporary, Franz Liszt.
Campanella is a reference to bells – Combrink’s main theme – and an exceptionally complex piece written by Liszt entitled La Campanella. Magical piano pieces by both composers are woven together with the sounds of bells and charming bell-related tales in a presentation indicative of careful thought, thorough research and warm passion.
Combrink is a gentle presence on stage and enraptures the audience with his talent as his hands fly across the keys. Employing a naturally playful humour and charm he engages the audience emotionally with historical anecdotes and by doing so further enriches the music.
He may have dubbed it an unusual piano recital, but classical music was written with narratives and emotions in mind – so perhaps a more fitting title would have been “Piano Recitals as they Should Be”. And there is an intrinsic personal tone to the show, evident from the very beginning in Combrink’s sincerity and warmth, and the simple personal touches such as the explanation of the origin of his shirt and even a loving tribute to his piano teacher.
The intimacy of the recital would have been complemented by a smaller theatre, and it would have been nice to have had some proper – if minor – lighting on stage rather than have the lights on throughout the theatre auditorium. The performance called for a bigger space though, because of the excellent turnout. It is heartening to see such great support for classical music although – no doubt greatly due to the 10.30am weekday time slot – it was almost entirely made up of aging white folk.
There were however a few schoolchildren in the audience, most of whom were clearly enjoying themselves. It would be uplifting to see more schoolchildren attending such events. This is a great way to bring classical music to a different, younger demographic, and with Combrink interweaving the music with historic sketches, the learning experience is two-fold.
Whether old or young, there is something new for everyone to learn. Campanella winds through history, exploring stories and sounds, while evoking emotion and memory. Combrink plays a host of great pieces from Chopin and Liszt, setting your ears ringing and your mind ticking back to reminiscences past as he brings alive bells in every shape and form.
Albert Combrink’s performance of Not Your Usual Piano Recital was on Wednesday 24 October 2012 at the Baxter Theatre.
See what else is on in Rondebosch