By Jim Lowe
MONTPELIER — He is perhaps the only Vermont classical musician who could nearly fill Montpelier High School’s Smilie Auditorium for a concert, but pianist Michael Arnowitt has been building his place in the Montpelier community for more than 30 years.
On Sunday, Arnowitt bid farewell to his chosen home with a solo recital that was both a brilliant performance and a community celebration. He will soon be relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the hundreds of folks who showed up — not only classical music lovers — made it clear he will be missed.
Arnowitt has always spoken at his concerts and, indeed, he spent time introducing the Chopin Preludes, Op. 28, which would comprise nearly the entire program. But he also took time to “stroll down memory lane,” and thanked many of the less heralded who had helped him along the way, including with his growing blindness.
Frederic Chopin’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28, when played together — they are sometimes performed separately — form a musical odyssey of moods and styles while traversing the 24 keys. They demand expert playing, from brilliant virtuosity to vulnerable tenderness, and Arnowitt delivered with flair.
One of Vermont’s very finest pianists, Arnowitt has been known for a sometimes idiosyncratic rhythmic approach, but not here. He let Chopin’s notes sing with the natural and expressive flow that makes this Polish-French composer so irresistible. Still, in the virtuosic passages, he delivered the rapid-fire fingering with confidence and passion.
Emblematic of Arnowitt’s approach was his performance of the well-known Prelude No. 15 in D-flat, called the “Raindrop” Prelude. Arnowitt had a rhythmic freedom that, while never exaggerating, sang with a unique mix of tenderness and grandeur. It was gorgeous.
In the finale, No. 24, Allegro appassionato, Arnowitt summed up the work delivering its grand Romanticism. It was powerful, beautiful and exciting.
Unfortunately, Arnowitt was hampered throughout by the mediocre MHS 6-foot Steinway piano, incapable of a really beautiful sound. Why couldn’t the concert have been presented at the Barre Opera House with its excellent 9-foot Steinway concert grand?
As a “programmed encore,” Arnowitt performed Chopin’s Barcarolle (boat song), Op. 60. Here he returned to a more idiosyncratic rhythmic approach, but it didn’t mask his passion for the work. The result was almost storytelling, ranging from loving caresses to virtuosity and grandeur. It was a fitting closing.
To follow pianist Michael Arnowitt in the future, go online to www.mapiano.com.