Mark Markham
Solo Rep | Vocal Performances | Feature: Baltimore Sun | Feature: Wall Street International | Review: ASO | Palladium Interview

Solo Repertoire

“Markham’s performance was not a flashy stunt but a profoundly musical return to the grand manner in which Liszt’s b minor Sonata used to be played. Nowadays, most performances – Argerich’s has been the great exception – “interpret” the sonata, dwelling overmuch on its myriad details, trying too hard to render its spectacular bag of tricks too cleanly and, thereby, missing the epochal sweep that makes the sonata a Rosetta stone for the Romantic era’s stresses and exaltations.

In the climax of the sonata’s Mephistophelian fugue, for example, Markham understood the way in which Liszt’s musical language sometimes serves as gesture and that the meaning of the gesture is sacrificed by concentrating too closely on the clarity of individual words (or notes). Markham may have smudged the fugue’s roulade of double octaves once or twice, but his fearless tempos and his golden, Rubinstein-like sonorities were stupendous, rather than clinical, in their effect. This was also an intelligently organized performance: the Faustian heroism and anxieties of the sonata’s central passages, as well as its hauntingly beautiful opening and closing pages, seemed all of one piece.”

“The Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 3 demands at once a great technician and a pianist who understands the nuances of emotion. Markham had no difficulty in managing these pyrotechnical feats. He also was at home with the emotional involvement and the passion Prokofiev exhibits in the short solo sections. Markham presented these with maturity, grace and, when needed, commanding authority.”

The Chopin and Liszt items featured pianist Mark Markham, a very successful alum and former faculty member of Peabody. He had the Andante spianato spinning beautifully and gave the Polonaise an effective drive, enhanced by a big, rich tone for the music’s most energetic moments. Totentanz is a lot of sound and fury, signifying very little, but Markham knew how to get the most out of it, producing abundant power for Liszt’s noisiest, flashiest variations on the ancient Dies Irae chant and sensitively using a wide palette of tone coloring whenever the bluster subsided.

For something completely different, the program closed with Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3, one of the dazzlers in the repertoire, as much for its technical fireworks as for its passionate melodies that exert an irresistible pull.

Mark Markham, one of the Peabody Conservatory’s most accomplished alums, was the soloist. He did not produce the biggest tone or tackle the tricky stuff with the brightest flash, but he still produced an effective amount of steel and sparkle. The pianist, who has a flair for jazz, also brought out elements in the score that suddenly sounded as if they could have come from Gershwin’s pen.