It’s been a while Harnoy’s rise in the 1980s – which was followed by her withdrawal from the concert stage about two decades later. Also a prolific recording artist during her heyday, she hasn’t recorded a new CD since 2000.
Today, on Toronto’s Mooredale concert series (at the University of Toronto’s Walter Hall), she played her first recital in years. Her accompanist for the occasion was Toronto’s reigning pianist, Anton Kuerti. And the program was serious: Bach’s Cello Suite No. 3, Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3 and the Franck Sonata.
I must be careful about comparisons, as I never heard her in a live performance back in the 20th century. But what I can say is that from the first notes of the Bach, it was apparent that she’s in good form. Her playing was secure, elegantly phrased, and emotionally economical. And if her intonation was not always pristine, it was certainly convincing.
When joined by Kuerti for the Beethoven, the two worked well together, giving a thoughtful and well-moderated reading. (I say “reading” as she played from score.) It was in the Franck that she really shone: her youthful passion was audible, but tempered by a strong sense of the work’s large-scale architecture.
The question “Can she still do it?” was answered with a solid yes. But the recital also raised some other questions that aren’t so easily answered.
The program was billed as Harnoy’s “return to the stage,” which sounds promising – but last week her publicist told me that she has no further engagements booked at this time. Similarly, program notes coyly explained that her prolonged absence from the stage was for “personal reasons, among them, to raise her two children.” There’s something about the phrase “among them” that hangs in the air uneasily.
So what was the intention behind this recital? Was it a rare one-off event for 500 lucky people? Was it Harnoy’s way of testing the waters, to decide if she wants to resume a busy career? Or has she already firmly decided to do so, if she can?
That may be easier said than done: the classical music business isn’t always ready to welcome the return of an artist after a decade’s absence. And the challenge may be compounded if the artist in question was once marketed as a Wunderkind, which Harnoy, at the age of 46, is no longer.
So I ask, “What does Ofra Harnoy want? And will she get it?” Only time will tell.
© Colin Eatock 2011