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Bennett Lerner plays works by composers deserving more recognition, and LAWRENCE BUDMEN is impressed


In an era of safe, tried and true programming, it is always heartening to encounter an artist who makes a major commitment to the music of our time. Like conductors Michael Tilson Thomas, Robert Spano, and Kent Nagano, the pianist Bennett Lerner has actively promoted the work of contemporary composers. On 4 October 2003 at the Lincoln Theater, Miami Beach, USA, Lerner presented a program of 'Music By My Friends' -- a brilliant evening of music by twentieth and twenty first century composers.

Lerner has lived in Thailand for the past thirteen years. He was Head of the Piano Department at the Chintakarn School of Music in Bangkok and is currently a lecturer in the Music Department at Payap University in Chiang Mai. Two works by the young Thai composer Narong Prangcharoen were the most striking and original music on the program. Three Movements (2003) is a dissonant, boldly imaginative suite. The score drifts between tonality and atonal techniques. Here is music that is fiercely modern yet filled with strong emotional resonance. The work requires a pianist with super human technique and dazzling virtuosity. Lerner played this demanding score brilliantly. His pianistic command is awesome. He brought the same passion and fervor to Prangcharoen's The Temple in the Mist -- Homage to Debussy (1998). The composer was inspired by Lerner's performance of the complete piano works of Debussy. The score deftly combines Thai folk music and French Impressionism in a rhapsodic manner. Lerner brought gleaming tone and throbbing intensity to this gorgeous vignette. Prangcharoen is a major talent. His future works are eagerly awaited.

Robert Helps (1928-2001) was one of Lerner's teachers at the Manhattan School of Music. Helps was a legendary pianist and a prolific composer. His Recollections (1959) was premièred by the great American pianist William Masselos. Helps's rugged, complex music is fascinating. The outer movements are astringent, hard driving musical statements. The second movement is a brief lyrical Interlude. Here is fiercely original, superb music by one of America's most interesting creative artists. Lerner gave a stunning performance of this difficult work. He brought delicacy as well as power to this unique score. For his encore Lerner again turned to Helps. The composer's Homage a Fauré is a romantic, melodically inspired pianistic gem. Lerner brought a beautiful singing line to this lovely music.

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Copyright © 9 October 2003 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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