Upbeat and a Little Too Lively

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The New York Sun

Nebraskan pianist Tim Hays kicked off the new season of concerts at St. Paul’s Chapel on Monday with a lively and upbeat recital. Much more than just a performer, Mr. Hays is a strong advocate for his Native American culture, and is perhaps best known in New York for his work at the American Indian Community House.

This keyboardist’s fine ability to handle complex ornamentation was on display immediately as he began his program with the Cantabile section of the Sonata in Domenico Scarlatti’s B Flat Minor, K. 544. Commencing in medias res emphasized the Rococo filigree of the work, and Mr. Hays’s Scarlatti sound was brilliant.

Mozart loved the key of C major for two reasons. In addition to its inherently sunny nature, this combination of notes was associated with military music during Wolfgang’s time. The infectiously jubilant marches in “Cosi fan tutte” and the somewhat sardonic but still hilariously buoyant regimental music surrounding Cherubino in “The Marriage of Figaro” grew out of both this tradition and Mozart’s eternal boyish love of tin soldiers. After the serious, noble ruminations of Scarlatti, Mr. Hays triumphantly traversed the birthday boy’s March in C major, KV 408. This was superb playing, bright and energetic.

Without pause, Mr. Hays followed with another Mozart bauble, the Gigue in G.The Gigue is not much of a piece, really, but I soon realized its significance as the soloist launched the main work of the afternoon, Bach’s English Suite No. 5, which concludes with a similar dance formation.

Highly influenced by the laws of mathematics, Old Bach plied his formulas with the care of a researcher but did not regard the finished product as anything special, and thus did not even bother to preserve much of his immense output. Of course, we in the 21st century revere this music much in the same way that Bach did his God, to whom he dedicated the algebraic purity of his compositions. In fact, that most spiritual of composers, Anton Bruckner, never began a day of composition without first playing several of Bach’s keyboard works to cleanse and purify his ear.

Bach’s English Suites are indeed compilations of dances, a concept that deserves emphasis, as I found the tempi of Mr. Hays much too fast for proper presentation of their stately rhythms. One could argue that the prelude — the one part of the piece not of the terpsichorean realm — can be played at any speed, as Bach left behind a paucity of notation. But Mr. Hays would have a difficult time making this case, as his alacrity caused him to veer off the rails more than a few times. At occasional points, Mr. Hays had to stop to find his place in the printed music. While this was not as disruptive as you might think, Mr. Hays needed time to get his bearings once he started up again. I realize that St. Paul’s is on a tight budget and may not have been able to afford a page turner, but I, for one, would have been more than happy to do the job for free.

Otherwise, this was fine playing. The slower dances were satisfying, and the Sarabande was especially dignified, perhaps in contrast to its hurried neighbors. The overall sound was superb, and Mr. Hays has a brilliant tone and a steely touch to match. He is especially adept at individual note definition and command of internal dynamics. Incidentally, he employed no pedals whatsoever for this entire suite. He concluded with the Mozart B flat minor Sonata, KV 333, notable for its relaxed opening tempo … or perhaps it simply seemed so after such breakneck Bach.

The New York Sun

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