Robyn Carmichael

By Scott MacClelland

PIANIST ROBYN CARMICHAEL, with a uniquely personal career history and infectiously radiant smile, drew a relatively large audience to her recital of 19th century ‘Romantic’ composers at St John the Baptist Episcopal in Aptos on Sunday afternoon. I say relatively because the Aptos Keyboard Series advertised the inaugural recital on a new grand piano and because the AKS has gained considerable support from the community in the last two or three years on the strength of a parade of fabulous artists, many of them young women of exceptional expressive intensity from the hyper-disciplined Russian school.

In fact, the new Kawai GX7, acquired thanks largely to an anonymous donation, replaces a worn-out instrument used by the last AKS artist (in July) and is now happily installed as the church’s resident instrument. Yet new, as with any new instrument, also means green; it will take a some time for it to get totally happy within its own skin. That will require a lot of use by pianists as well as tuners and experts in the arts of voicing fine instruments. The room itself will also need some adjustments. Late afternoon sunshine poured through uncurtained windows and significantly warmed the space occupied by piano and pianist.

For her program Carmichael chose mostly well-known works by Mendelssohn, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt, most of them of short duration. To good effect, these included Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, Chopin’s Nocturne, Op 27:2, Schumann’s song Widmung in the Liszt transcription, and the best-known of the three Liebesträume by Liszt. The Mendelssohn rondo, the Chopin nocturne and Waltz, Op 34:3, the Liszt  Liebesträume and Des Abends from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke made a most memorable impression, especially when they got Carmichael’s most delicate touch. Yet for the boldness of her playing overall, the louder dynamics made the large space seem too small. Even so, the trumpeting Scherzo from Mendelssohn’s Capriccio, Op 16, a reference to a garland of trumpet-shaped yellow flowers on a Welsh girl’s head, drew plenty of smiles. 

At 27 minutes, the biggest work on her program, Chopin’s Sonata in B Minor, was at its best in the slow Largo movement. The last piece on the printed program was the long-winded Tarantella from Liszt’s Années de pèleranage (Years of Pilgrimage): Venezia e Napoli.

Carmichael charmed the audience with her anecdotes and demeanor, yet her performance, despite her obvious professional skill and accomplishments, felt slightly under-rehearsed. But that might well have been due to the fresh-out-of-the-box Kawai itself. As an encore she performed a Scarlatti sonata.

St John’s has a new/old organ, whose large case barely fits into the space—immediately to the left of the piano—a recently installed 19th century tracker which will get its inaugural concert performance, by Bill Visscher, on October 28, 5pm.