Pianist Vanessa Perez performs Chopin with passion, sensuality

May 22, 2012

When it comes to Chopin, the Venezuelan American pianist Vanessa Perez doesn’t play nice. “The way I play this music may not be stereotypically ‘beautiful’ — it may be more raw than some,” she recently said of her new recording of the composer’s 24 Preludes, Op. 28. “I didn’t want pretty. I wanted honest.”

That’s an assertive way to look at these strange and atmospheric miniatures — many of which are less than a minute long, and range from quiet contemplation to torrents of barely-contained rage — and most pianists aim at drawing out their elusive, subtle poetry.

But in a stunning performance at the Embassy of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Hall on Thursday night, Perez dove into the Preludes as if discovering them for the first time, flinging them out into the hall with a kind of wild intensity that was often breathtaking, as if she were forcing these delicate hothouse flowers into the fresh air for the first time.

It didn’t always work; some of the more fragile preludes felt a bit overwhelmed, and Perez’s dry-eyed approach seemed to add a grain of impatience to tender works such as the beautiful No. 4 (Largo) and the No. 6 (Lento assai). But where fire was called for, Perez delivered. She brought off the near-impossible No. 8 (Molto agitato) with stormy bravura, always aiming for expressiveness over mere technical proficiency, and throughout the evening displayed an impressive range of ideas and originality. It was, perhaps, a particularly Ibero American approach to Chopin, weighted toward passion and sensuality rather than delicacy — and it underscored Perez’s growing reputation as a gifted pianist well worth keeping an eye on.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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