British pianist Kathryn Stott returns to Kennedy Center

December 4, 2011

Washington audiences had a chance to hear the British pianist Kathryn Stott four years ago when — thanks to the Washington Performing Arts Society — she accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Stott returned to the Kennedy Center on Saturday afternoon, but this time for a solo recital in the more intimate Terrace Theater, where, with no distracting superstars cluttering the stage, she proved to be an extraordinarily interesting and incisive interpreter in her own right.

Stott is an unabashed musical Francophile and devoted much of the afternoon to impressionistic works by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Gabriel Fauré— music full of evanescent colors and shimmering, elusive light. Her playing was, as you might expect, luminous and delicately shaded — her technique is superb, and she’s a master of subtle emotions and telling details — but was never merely atmospheric. Stott stayed refreshingly clear-eyed even in the depths of Debussy’s darkly gorgeous Nocturne in D-flat, and Ravel’s “Sonatine” radiated intelligence, power and playful logic. Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Chorale and Fugue was less of a pleasure; it’s a rather stern and self-important work which, coming on Debussy’s dreamy heels, felt oddly like a rebuke.

Stott shifted into higher gear in the second half of the program with a riveting account of Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1, Op. 22, a wildly colorful piece of early Latin modernism. Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Valsa da Dor” lent a touch of poignancy to the program, but it was “Relent” by British composer Graham Fitkin that stole the show. Commissioned by Stott in 2000, this driving, insistent, almost physical piece charges out of the gate and never looks back: a high-octane performance from one of the most impressive pianists heard here in years.

Brookes is a freelance writer.

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