Features and Reviews
Novacek Brothers at Old Town Music Hall, 7/13/03
By Bill Mitchell
John Novacek (piano) and Steven Novacek (guitar) appeared in concert at the Old Town Music Hall in El Segundo on Sunday evening, November 17, 2002. The program was primarily classical, but concluded with three John Novacek rags.
I am not competent to review the classical pieces in any detail, but the consummate artistry of these two musicians was evident in everything they did. Both had prodigious techniques and played with great sensitivity for the material at hand.
The brothers opened the program with a duet performance of J. S. Bach's "Viola da gamba sonata No. 3 in G minor." After this baroque piece, John turned to the romantic literature for two piano solos: Rachmaninov's "Prelude in G," and Lizst's "Rhapsodie Espagnole." After intermission Stephen soloed on Castelnuovo-Tedesco's "Capriccio Diabolico," and Montana's "Porro." John accompanied him on Piazzolla's "Milonga del Angel" and "La Muerta del Angel." To conclude the program John played three of his own rags, remarking that he loved ragtime and had written quite a few pieces in that genre.
"Intoxication" was a dazzlingly intricate, up-tempo romp with surprising twists and turns. "Melancholy Drag" was of course slower, but far from lugubrious, as the title might imply. "Crazy Rhythm/Full Stride Ahead" incorporated several of the stride figures developed by the Harlem stridemasters (James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith, etc.). Stephen accompanied these performances on guitar. Wildly enthusiastic applause brought the brothers back for one encore: "Waltzy," a Novacek rag in three-quarter time.
John Novacek is truly a Mr. Superchops. He is probably the most accomplished pianist ever to play at Old Town Music Hall, and that's saying a lot! His performance of the Liszt was thrilling. He made the Bosendorfer whisper in pensive passages and then thunder in triple forte at almost supersonic tempo on passages of unbelievable complexity. Steven Novacek is also a master of his instrument, producing a mellow tone with none of the distracting twangs that I always assumed were unavoidable, since they even appear in the records of such guitar giants as Bream and Segovia.
There were a few ragtime regulars in attendance, but from the many unfamiliar faces in the fairly large audience I concluded that they were drawn by the Novaceks' high regard in the world of "serious" music.