Robert Shannon Proves Model For Conservatory Pianists

Meghan Farnsworth, Staff Writer

Wednesday’s recital at Warner Concert Hall featured the talented Robert Shannon, OC ’72, a man famous for being the head of Oberlin’s Keyboard Studies Division, founder of the Cooper International Piano Competition and a highly sought-after piano professor in the Conservatory. With such a reputation, expectations were high.

Shannon walked across Warner’s stage as though he were emotionally wounded. His shoulders slumped and his arms swung to their own momentum. When he took his place at the piano, the music that ensued contrasted the reputation preceding him. The performance was very personal, reflective and emotional, rather than purely virtuosic. This effect was both strange and enlightening, especially given the authoritative clout he possesses.

He presented an emotionally woven program: Franz Schubert’s Sonata in D major, one movement from Oliver Messiaen’s Dés canyons aux étoiles, and a movement, “Aprés une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi sonata” from the second suite, Deuxième année: Italie, of Années de pèlerinage by Franz Liszt.

The single movement, “Le Moqueur Polyglotte,” from Messiaen’s Dés canyons aux étoiles greatly highlighted the emotive characteristic of Shannon’s playing. This movement typically features a larger ensemble, yet his playing was nevertheless powerful.

Exercising the range of the piano’s keys, Shannon maneuvered between the glistening, crisp quality of the piece’s highest notes to its lowest, which were at times cavernous and ominous. Alternating between the pedals on the piano, he was able to tactfully articulate the overtones — pitches heard above a note that resonate and rise in register when held down by the piano pedal that dampens its sound — while still creating a musical line that was connected and linear. In this way, he came to life by bringing out all of the piano’s sonic possibilities. At times he would hover over the keys, especially in the lower register notes, and would hold a breath of intricate silence.

The highlight of the program was the movement, “Aprés une lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi sonata”, from Liszt’s Deuxième année: ItalieDeuxième année is a work written later in Liszt’s career. His compositions from this period typically have virtuosic moments balanced with ones that are spiritual and full of passion, honesty and duress. A pianist must be both technically and emotionally fluent to play these works.

Shannon possesses both of these characteristics despite his almost withdrawn and isolated persona. Moments of the Liszt were virtuosically alluring and also inspiringly profound. Shannon had found his own way to play this music, and he put himself entirely into it. His performance was intriguing and fantastic, befitting his reputation.