Andrew Heath

"Evenings of Music"
by John Mucci

Fairfield Citizen News

Andew Heath
Andrew Heath

Fairfield County's love for pianist Andrew Heath was more than evident in the full house which greeted his concert on Friday at Fairfield University. the program opened the school's "Evenings of Music" series.

Heath's eclectic program kept a cautious balance between classic and modern works. First on the program was a sonata by Elliott Carter—a product of the hybrid style of 1940's American Music. Not wiling to lapse into a single tonality, not exactly atonal, it is a raw, diatonic work which wanders up and down the keyboard like an imprecise bullet, endlessly ricocheting. Its angular motion is reminiscent of the B-A-C-H motif, using minor seconds and minor ninths to achieve a disturbing, restless fabric. Relief from the shrill treble iterations (which tend to sound as though the pianist's right hand had an elastic band around two fingers) comes in the form of major-triad harmonics which are welcome, even if unvaried.

Heath dived into Carter's Sonata with great delight; his enthusiasm for it may well have gained the patience of the audience (which always seems restless as such compositions), but his query to those present—"would you like to hear that one all over again?"—brought an anxious ripple of laughter.

Haydn's "Andante con Variazioni" was performed in a precise manner, as cool and chiselled as a piece of topiary. Bach's "Partita in B-flat" seemed a bit academically hammered out, and soon it became clear that the instrument upon which Heath was playing was responsible for much of the stiffness in dynamics and the difficulty he seemed to be having in grading a true crescendo from something quiet to anything representing fortissimo. The Steinway used had such a dry, curt response that many legato passages suffered, and, particularly in the next piece, it became something of a battle between Heath and Steinway to keep the more mellifluent Ravel from sounding as brittle as Bach.

Truly the high point of the program, Ravel's "Sonatine de 1905" is the unchecked emotion found in Carter's Sonata, dressed in the oscelot furs from a salon of Sarah Bernhardt. The composer's idioms are so distinctively ornate and elegant, that neither stiff action nor the (by now) false temperament of the Steinway's top end could harm it. Heath's rendering of each arabesque, or sequence of serpentined chord blocks was a delight to hear.

Heath brings a great deal of tension to the music; even in the softest passages there is the insistence of enegy held in reserve. Only perhaps twice in the concert did he use all his strength, and to great effect—once in the Ravel, once in the Brahms which closed the program.

Brahms' vigorous "E-flat Rhapsody" is bottom-heavy, (as is much of his work) and Heath spared no force in his playing. As in the Carter and Ravel, this is a third facet of passion, massive and rude, but orderly, and most logical. It is also the piece in which Heath came closest to playing passionately. The distance he generated in Bach or Haydn was gone. This seemed much more personal.

Chopin and Scott Joplin were sandwiched between these last two mnubers. The three Chopin Mazurkas offered seemed so very tired; the lovely one in A minor was like a dried rose—able to be appreciated, but as a shadow of what it could have been. The ubiquitous Scott Joplin was certainly a great deal of fun, but Heath's showmanship and affable takes to the audience were much more memorable than the music. At this point in the program, however, such an about-face in style guaranteed success.

Two encore numbers, Brahms' "Intermezzo," and Rachmaninof's "Prelude in G-sharp Minor", rounded off the evening in a romantic vein, both stylistically in middle-ground.

Heath founded the department of music at Fairfield University, and although he has toured extensively, he is a familiar and welcome sight at home in Fairfield County.