Review Per Enflo in for Sarkis Baltaian on Chagrin Valley Series (February 20)
by Daniel Hathaway
When your featured artist calls in sick, it’s a good thing to have a reliable backup performer on your speed dial. Last Sunday afternoon at Valley Lutheran Church in Chagrin Falls, the day (or at least the concert) was saved by the Swedish-born pianist Per Enflo, a frequent collaborator with Chagrin Valley Chamber Music’s artistic director and violinist Hristo Popov. He stepped in on what must have been a moment’s notice for the ailing Bulgarian-born pianist, Sarkis Baltaian, and played an almost note-perfect ninety-minute recital from memory.
Though he continues to tour and recitalize as a concert pianist, Mr. Enflo’s day job is University Professor at Kent State University, where he works on solving thorny mathematical problems most of us have never heard of. His biography in the program suggests that he has some thirty, full-length recitals in his memory. The one we heard on Sunday began with a Haydn Sonata, advanced to several Swedish salon pieces, Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata and a couple of preludes and fugues from J.S. Bach’s first Well Tempered Clavier book, and a second Beethoven sonata, opus 111.
The large audience, who heard about the change of performers only in Mr. Popov’s opening welcome, might initially have been disappointed, but quickly settled in for what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of music-making.
Mr. Enflo enjoys playing with rather dry articulation and very little pedal, which suited Haydn’s e minor sonata nicely. The Haydn also worked well on Valley Lutheran’s Petrof baby grand piano, which got a real workout at the end of the program. The pianist’s passage work was clean and even, and he pointed up the formal structure of the work with intelligence and clarity.
We then heard a series of small works by two composers who, he noted, held the same stature in Sweden that Nielsen did in Denmark and Sibelius in Finland in that same generation. Three pleasant little pieces by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger were entitled “Summer Song”, “Lawn Tennis” and “Gratulation”. Emil Sjögren was represented by his “Morgonvandring” (Morning Walk), an energetic ramble through the countryside.
Mr. Enflo ended the first half with Beethoven’s Sonata “Quasi una fantasia”, op. 27, no. 2. A more mystical, hushed approach to the first movement would have better matched Beethoven’s apparent concept, but the second movement was crisp and sprightly and the finale was appropriately frenetic.
After intermission, the recitalist played the c-minor and D-major preludes and fugues from WTC — two of the pieces from this collection that seem least suited for translation to the piano. The c-minor prelude cries out for the jangly quality of the harpsichord, and the perpetual motion right hand line in the D-major seems to need the lightness of plucked strings. Here, on the piano, fingers seemed to get a bit fatigued as the pieces went on and articulation became less clear, but the fugue subjects were nicely set forth and clearly revealed as the counterpoint became more complex.
Beethoven’s last statement in the category of the piano sonata received a fluent and efficient reading from Mr. Enflo, who shaped its second movement — which seems not to know how to end — with conviction and grace. A very happy audience gave the recitalist a strong ovation.
The next event in the Chagrin Valley Chamber Music Series will be a performance of Tchaikovsky’s a-minor Piano Trio by Hristo Popov, violin, Michael Gelfand, cello, and Emanuela Friscioni, piano, on April 3 at 3pm.