You’re No Clara Schumann: Sharona Joshua at Strathmore, May 12, 2011

Sharona Joshua began her recital at the Mansion at Strathmore Thursday night with Beethoven’s piano sonata Op. 31, no. 3, the “Hunt” sonata, and it soon proved that Joshua was unequal to capturing her quarry. Frequent spasms of missed notes marred the performance, and transitions between musical paragraphs foundered on awkward, momentum-draining pauses, like a car encountering a pothole; at one point, she even paused to reach up and push her hair back from her forehead, mid-phrase. It was not hard to infer that Joshua was actually having trouble remembering the notes in the sonata; this was confirmed when she pulled out the score after the second movement and set it on the piano, and even then, she could barely string the melodies together.

The pianist in happier times

Joshua’s conceit for this performance was to re-create a recital program given by Clara Schumann, the brilliant pianist and able composer who, from posterity’s standpoint, had the misfortune of choosing an even more historically significant husband, namely the composer Robert. In between works, Joshua read quotes about and by Clara, from a volume on her life. Yet these too were uncertain, full of similar hair-in-hand moments and the phrase “Um…OK.”

After the first of these interstitial interjections, she went backstage, and returned with a young woman in tow to turn her pages. She spent the rest of the recital on a musical journey that, at isolated points, touched the heights of mediocrity. The importance of this journey did not deter Joshua from giving her page-turner glares and at least one hand-swat when an apparent disagreement occurred, and at one point Joshua opened up the floor for questions in the middle of her recital, which is not cool on a work night. Q&As come after the concert, when people can easily leave!

Joshua has an international career as a harpsichordist and fortepianist (she played Strathmore’s 1850s Broadwood piano on Thursday), and so she clearly has had a lot of performances that went much better than this one did. (Listen here for examples of Joshua on her game.) I suspect that this was just a one-time thing and that future performances will show a more confident, assured artist. Unfortunately, what us Strathmore patrons got from Joshua was some of the worst piano playing I’ve ever heard.

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