By Courtney Laermer
and Erica DeMichiel
Assistant News Editor and Food Editor
From light, cheery melodies to deep and dark tones, John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce drew in his audience in what has become a semi-annual piano recital in Crowell Concert Hall on Sunday, Oct. 12. The afternoon recital was the fourth out of 12 CD-length concerts in Bruce’s “This Is It!” series, an ongoing effort to record his entire selection of solo piano works as he plays them in front of a live audience.
Bruce’s free, chromatic improvisation, with pieces that lasted no longer than one minute and 45 seconds, mixed sweet melodies with unconventional chord patterns.
The concert began with Bruce’s “prelude à l’improvisto,” a nine-part introduction. Staccato rhythms transitioned abruptly into softer melodies, and Bruce’s utilization of dissonant chords and hurried playing gave his opening piece an air of musical abstractionism. Despite the seemingly erratic features of the composition, the natural ebb and flow of the piece, with its constant crescendos and decrescendos, felt cohesive. Similar patterns were later implemented in “Modal Study No. 4,” “Serial Invention No. 2,” and “Two-Part Invention and Chorale.”
However, as his “prelude à l’improvisto” progressed, the overall tone of Bruce’s compositions shifted. Once he began performing his “Pandiatonic Study No. 2,” the slightly cacophonous, often-clipped chords that were prevalent at the beginning of the movement gradually diminished in frequency. More slurred notes replaced them, flowing into each other to create increasingly mellifluous melodies. When Bruce had reached his “Algorithmic Gymnopédie No. 1” and his “Andante variée,” a total conversion had occurred: Polished melodies had overtaken the somewhat jagged quality of his opening pieces.
The metamorphosis became even more apparent in “The Two-Twin Tango” and “Three Lullabies.” Bruce had allocated each portion of the latter three-part composition to a specific individual: one lullaby to baby Alex Broening, one to baby Max Broening, and yet another lullaby for their parents. Delicate tones persisted throughout, eventually building into Bruce’s “Variations on a Polonaise.”
Before the second portion of his concert, following a five-minute intermission, Bruce explained to the audience how his “Variations on a Polonaise” are actually “anti-variations,” since they exhibit traits that Frédéric Chopin’s original works do not. The first piece, “Tema,” was a jumpy, upbeat selection with little difference throughout the volume. In the fifth fragment of the Variations, “Arioso,” the cheeriness evident in “Tema” made its return. Despite a hint of the dissonance that was characteristic of the first half of the concert, the progression of the Variations remained holistically melodic. From “Presto non troppo” to the final fragment, “Tema, da capo,” a dramatic crescendo heightened the grandeur of the Variations’ finale.
The performance concluded with a jolly rendition of “Rondo Fanfare” by Anthony Heinrich, as well as an equally uplifting encore that was another original composition of Bruce’s. His talent on the piano underscored a high degree of fluidity and proficiency in this particular genre of classical
Bruce’s genuine desire to share his passion with an audience was clear throughout the concert, and his devotion to becoming the first pianist/composer to record his complete roster of piano music is a testament to his deep emotional connection with a skill he has truly mastered.