William G. Dietrich [cond.-pf-dir.]
2 July 2016
James Wehli will leave for England on May 2nd. It is not certain if he will return in the winter. One of his former impresarios claims that it is not hard to please an audience with his performance; however, it is hard to get enough people together who want to listen.
"Mr. James M. Wehli gives his last farewell matinée at Wallack’s Theatre this afternoon. The gentleman is a favorite with the public, and as a bravura player outranks any one [sic] in this country. In certain specialties it may be questioned if he is equaled by any pianist living; such, for instance, is his extraordinary command over the left hand. He confines himself mainly to his own compositions, but these are melodious, fluent and graceful. What is more to the point, they please the public. The most popular of those published will be played to-day, also a piece in manuscript called the ‘Danse Bachanale.’” Lists a portion of the program.
“The announcement of the Farewell Matinée of the popular and wonderful pianist, James M. Wehli, attracted a large and brilliant audience to Wallack’s Theater, comprising the most prominent ladies of the fashionable world. Our élite of society have been so overtaxed with Matinées, Soirees, Operas, Concerts and reunions for the last six weeks, that it needed some strong excitement, such as the reappearance of Wehli, to charm them from their retirement.
Wehli was assisted by Mr. Richard Hoffman, Mrs. Mario Abbott [sic], Mlle. de Gebele, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Castle. Of course, Mr. Wehli was the center of attraction, and won on this occasion, as on all others, the most enthusiastic admiration. All his pieces were encored, the ladies of the audiences using their hands with a vehemence altogether unusual. We have so often spoken of the unrivaled brilliancy, the unerring accuracy, and the exquisite coloring of Mr. Wehli’s playing that nothing is left for us to say, but that in all these points he was as great as ever, and that we listen to him always with increased delight, and to his left hand solos with undiminished wonder. His new compositions, ‘The Streamlet’ and ‘Heather-bells’ are graceful, charming and effective pieces, and under his exquisitely delicate and sensitive touch, they are positively fascinating. Wehli’s playing is so consummate in its artistic finish, that it never tires the hearer, but begets a craving desire to hear more, which accounts for his extraordinary popularity wherever he has played, in public or private, throughout the country.
Thalberg’s Norma Duet for two pianos, by Richard Hoffman and Wehli, was as perfect an example of piano-forte playing as the world can offer at this day. Their fingers seemed guided by one mind; in tone and expression, in delicacy, accuracy and brilliancy, and in all the fine artistic shadings which give the crowning finish to a performance, they left no perfection to be desired or imagined. It is needless to say that the duet was repeated on demand by acclamation.
We bid farewell to Mr. Wehli with much regret, for he has maintained among us so invariably the genuine bearing of a true artist and gentleman. We are glad, however, to learn that he purposes to return in the Fall, bringing with him, probably, some artists, in order to renew the successes which have attended his career in the United States.”
“The ladies turned out in force Wednesday to bid farewell to the above distinguished pianist previous to his departure from America. He was assisted by the very best talent that could be found in New York. Mr. Richard Hoffman played Thalberg’s fantasia on Norma and the March of the Amazons with him, and Mrs. Marie Abbott, soprano; Miss Frida de Gebele, contralto; Mr. William Castle, tenor, and Mr. S. C. Campbell, baritone, were the vocalists. Mr. Wehli played his fantasia on Faust, Home, Sweet Home (for the left hand), Heather bells, the Dance of the Bacchanals, and others of his brilliant compositions. The Dance of the Bacchanals is very like the Amazons’ march, being constructed in precisely the same manner. There is a healthful freshness and a rustic grace about the Heather-bells which was a relief from the ponderous style of many of those pianists who have appeared this season. Although we have described the exquisite work of Thalberg before in the Herald, yet the style in which it was performed Wednesday demands notice. Every phrase and bar was given with rare expression and power, particularly the brilliant spray that is dashed over the Druids’ March. There was nothing clumsy, unintelligible or vague in any part of the duet, but shading, coloring and sentiment in every measure. Mr. Wehli, it is true, has a peculiar bravura style of his own, which is rather light and airy, but it is a style that, in his hands, ever will be popular. A crisp, sympathetic and mobile touch, by which the softest passages are given with distinctness and seem to drop from his fingers like diamond points, and a graceful conception of a work, will ever place him at the head of modern pianists. Mr. Hoffman is the best representative of this school we have in this city after Mr. Wehli’s departure. Others may perplex their hearers with strange and eccentric ideas, but this school of grace, sympathy and brilliancy will never appeal to the heart in vain. Mr. Wehli’s extraordinary power of technique gives him unlimited command over the piano. Technique is only the means conducive to the end which all musicians should aim at; and Mr. Wehli, besides this power, has the rare quality of rhythmical expression and delicate perception of the beautiful in his rendering.
The quartet of vocalists was unexceptionable. Verdi’s duet in Traviata, trio in Ernani and quartet in Rigoletto were given in a manner which would reconcile a person to the works of the Italian composer. We have heard him butchered and mutilated so unmercifully at concerts by soi disant artists from his own country that we were almost tempted to forget what he was in his younger days, but Wednesday he received the honors due to him.
Mrs. Abbott sang ‘O, Ye Tears,’ by Abt, splendidly, and Mr. Castle rendered the ever welcome little song of Perring, ‘Beware, Beware,’ in a manner that showed the true artist. There was not a piece in the entire concert but was deserving of praise [sic], and Mr. Wehli’s farewell was unmarred by any of those disagreeable features so common, unhappily, in such entertainments.”
“Mr. James M. Wehli’s farewell matinée at Wallack’s Theatre, on Wednesday last, attracted an overflowing audience. The gentleman has never played better. He leaves for Europe on Wednesday’s steamer, but will return, we trust, in the Fall. It is only now that his compositions are beginning to permeate the musical world, and it would be a pity and a mistake if he deprived the public of the opportunity—which his superb playing affords—of hearing them justly interpreted. There are but few genuine bravura player in the world, and Mr. Wehli is certainly one of the best.”