Aristo Sham played a concert at the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach on March 2023. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but I heard an excellent recording of the concert.
The first half consisted of Bach’s Partita in D major and Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57 (“Appassionata”). In both cases, his playing was impeccable in clarity and precision. However, there were a few perplexing decisions. For example, in the first part of Overture of the Partita, the double-dotted sharpness of the French Overture rhythm was inconsistent — perhaps attributable to the natural nervousness at the start of a concert but also the resonant acoustic of the hall. It is also disappointing that he ignored all the repeats, even in the Minuet (the first part is only 8 bars!). Nevertheless, there was much to admire: the recitativos and singing lines in the Allemande and Sarabande and the delightfully spirited Air, Minuet, and Gigue.
Throughout the Beethoven Sonata, the tempos were on the fast side, often taking away the drama of the work. The Allegro assai is in 12/8 (fast eights), not the 4/4 (triplets in quarters), which seems to have been Sham’s choice. The second movement was not very inspired, particularly the dialog between the theme and the cello-like left hand of the last variation. Finally, the Allegro ma non troppo (meaning “not so fast”) was, again, fast and brilliantly played. (Here, he followed the rarely observed repeat of the development/recap, even though he did not do that in the usually observed repeats in Bach). I am sure both codas in the first and last movements were a hit with the audience, but it is debatable whether Beethoven had those tempos in mind.
The program’s second half showed Aristo Sham at his best; he felt at home, free and comfortable with the repertoire of the Americas: works by Villalobos, Piazzolla, and Barber. Here Aristo Sham’s discipline was steady and admirable — occasionally absent in Beethoven. He was always technically impressive and communicated the sounds and idiosyncratic rhythms of all these works marvelously.
The eight pieces in Villalobos’ Prole do Bebe were magnificent, each with its particular color and charm. The Moreninha and the famous Polichinelo were incredibly sparkling. I am usually not a fan of Piazzolla, perhaps because most instrumentalists try to Gardelize, converting it into an Argentinian caricature. In contrast, Sham’s playing of Piazzolla was just enjoyable and beautiful.
Finally, his playing of the famous Barber Sonata was one of the best I have heard. The fugue presented no problems for Sham. For a change, we enjoyed the music — unconcerned with the typical struggles of ordinary pianists.
Every great pianist has stylistic strengths. No pianist is perfect in every musical style. I admire Aristo Sham’s immense talent and accomplishments. I may have reservations with some of his interpretations, but he has demonstrated to be a formidable force from whom we will hear again.