Pianist Ang Li shows technical ability at American Art Museum, but lacks lyricism

Courtesy of Ang Li - Chinese pianist Ang Li offered a program of Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Enrique Granados and ”Last Dance,” a short work by Clark Ros.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Sunday concert series has been going for years, but still struggles to find a niche. Although the price is right (free), and the venue far more comfortable than the National Gallery (whose concerts are also free), attendance is often thin.

Chinese pianist Ang Li gave a staid program of Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Enrique Granados and “Last Dance,” a short work by Clark Ross, for the contemporary offering. Li is an efficient, unfussy player, but short on lyricism. In Mozart’s Sonata K. 330, the combination of minimal pedaling, a dry hall and Li’s crisp touch added up to rather plodding Mozart, not enhanced by her rushing in fast passages. In a set of Debussy Preludes, she captured the languor of “Danseuses de Delphes” and some of the brilliance of “Feux d’artifice,” but “La cathedrale engloutie” lacked the grandeur of long lines.

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Ross’s piece, a bitonal habanera that ends in a shiver of irritation, was intermittently engaging but went on too long. In a Chopin set, the rubato felt pre-planned to a fault. Mazurkas are still dances, and in the No. 45 in A Minor, there was so much “feeling” that the pulse was lost, meandering into incoherence. The Nocturne Op. 27, No. 2, suffered similarly. The concluding “Allegro di Concierto,” a virtuoso romp by Granados, was dispatched note-perfectly, but without exhilaration. Li is a formidable player, but her artistic profile is still undeveloped.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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