Pianist Sara Daneshpour's
Philadelphia recital debut sets bells

The Philadelphia Inquirer
By Peter Dobrin, Inquirer Music Critic
January 22, 2014

The order of things matters in a recital, or at least it can. Programs are essentially a portrait of the artist, and Sunday afternoon at the Trinity Center for Urban Life, pianist Sara Daneshpour proved a canny attendant to her image. Each piece was more convincing than the last, until a Scarlatti sonata as encore revealed yet another aspect of her formidable visage.

But other, more meaningful layers surfaced in what Astral Artists billed as the Philadelphia recital debut of the Curtis Institute and Juilliard School graduate. Bells were everywhere - tolling an introspective dusk to life at the end of Granados' El amor y la muerte, Opus 11; bells as lone mourner to a hanged man in the second movement of Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit; ringing an end to the middle section of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7 in B Flat Major, Op. 83, " Stalingrad." In this context, the bell tones in Scarlatti's Sonata in B Minor, K. 27 rose like cheerful affirmation after an intermittent memento mori.

The assemblage by Daneshpour, 26, was also a stealth declaration of her considerable virtuosity. The Granados was Liszt-like in its density, showing a pianist capable of both grand gestures and introspection. "Ondine" - the first movement of Gaspard - was rendered with an impressive command of feathery textures. Pure strength flowed into the final convulsive, angular moments of Ravel's third-movement goblin story.

Everything from there seemed to lead to the Prokofiev. Arvo Pärt's Für Alina came in a version lasting perhaps a couple of minutes, becoming in effect a prelude to Scriabin's Sonata No. 2 in G-sharp Minor, Op. 19 - a work as voluptuously proportioned in its technical demands as anything Rachmaninoff ever wrote. And then the Prokofiev sonata. Daneshpour saw the composer's intentions and fine-tuned them with her own - the way the first movement lampoons the classical sonata form by punching out themes with the inevitability of a maniacal assembly line, a jagged first-movement rhythmic drive so powerfully handled that it left hip-hop in the dust. She minimized the potential for mockery in the first movement by taking the more dreamy material at its sincere word. Contrast was there, exaggeration minimized. Through scrupulous attention to dynamics, she layered the bells of the second movement. If you closed your eyes, you had the distinct sense of peals all around, arriving from near and far.

Pianist Sara Daneshpour stuns at the American Art Museum

The Washington Post
By Stephen Brooks
July 14, 2014

There may be few more fascinating periods in music than the turn of the 20th century, when romanticism began giving way to impressionism, expressionism and all the other “isms” of the modern world. The fine young pianist Sara Daneshpour made that period the focus of a colorful and beautifully conceived concert at the American Art Museum on Sunday afternoon, tying the romantic lyricism of Granados and Franck to the tone-painting of Ravel and the raw explosiveness of Prokofiev — and playing it all with stunning virtuosity and verve.

A D.C. native still in her 20s, Daneshpour opened the afternoon quietly with a poised, utterly clear and graceful performance of Haydn’s Sonata in F Hob. XVI:16 — a delight to the ears, like virtually everything Haydn wrote. But the Haydn was merely a prelude to Maurice Ravel’s still-astonishing suite of tone poems, “Gaspard de la nuit.”

Written in 1908, it’s a masterpiece of early expressionism, from the shimmering water effects of “Ondine” to the tolling bells and morbid brooding of “Le gibet” (“The Scaffold”) and the taut, menacing “Scarbo” — not only one of the most colorful works in the piano literature (its range of sonorities is astounding), but also one of the most difficult to play. Daneshpour brought it off flawlessly, with both the virtuosic touch she had shown in the Haydn and a rich, imaginative sense of color and dramatic pace.

Sergei Prokofiev wrote his Toccata Op. 11 just a few years after Gaspard appeared, but it’s a much different work that builds driving, repeated notes into an unstoppable powerhouse. Daneshpour turned in one of the strongest and most purposeful readings you could hope to hear, throwing herself into the work for a bravura performance. But she showed a different side of herself in the more introspective “El Amor y la Muerta: Balada” (The Ballad of Love and Death”) by Enrique Granados, the fifth in his “Goyescas” piano suite of 1911. Deeply lyrical, suffused with sorrow and longing, it’s a work whose loose, unpredictable phrasing gives it an almost improvisational feel, and Daneshpour gave it a straight-from-the-heart reading.

Two earlier works — Alexander Scriabin’s “Sonata- Fantasy No. 2” from 1898, and Cesar Franck’s much-loved “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” from 1884 — closed the program and linked it to late-19th century romanticism. The two-movement Scriabin sonata — a sort of tone poem evoking the ocean — is as impressionistic as it is romantic, and Daneshpour played it with extraordinary sensitivity and a subtle sense of color. Franck’s Bach-influenced “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” is a masterpiece if there ever was one: intellectually weighty, emotionally complex, and containing an almost monumental sense of power. Daneshpour gave it superb reading, and when called back for an encore, she played a sonata by Domenico Scarlatti with all the deft precision and clarity she had brought to the Haydn.

“…she lavished color on oft-neglected lines, illuminated subtle beauties, and raged through the storms, always with stunning polish.”

- New York Concert Review

“…she attacked the finale with unremitting intensity, bringing listeners to their feet.”

- New York Concert Review

“…admirably colorful playing.”

- The Baltimore Sun

“...she had a flawless sense of the music's ebb, flow and surge. Cascades of notes glided by ever so elegantly, exquisitely tapered, with no hint of effort.”

- The Dallas Morning News

“…Sara Daneshpour, la magnifique.”

- Le Devoir (Montreal)