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Rita Bouboulidi

Pianist Rita Bouboulidi is renowned for her dedication to Beethoven. She's performed his complete cycle of 32 sonatas nearly a dozen times, which says worlds about her determination. But determination wasn't quite enough to save an otherwise lackluster and almost dutiful recital.

Launching into Brahms's two enchanting Rhapsodies, Op. 79, on Sunday night even before the welcoming applause had died down, Bouboulidi's playing seemed perfunctory from the start. To be sure, the poor acoustics of the National Gallery of Art's West Garden Court tended to make everything sound over-pedaled and muddy. But the details of these lyrical pieces, which usually melt ecstatically in the ears, were lost in a vague and shapeless wash of sound.

Beethoven's Sonata in E, Op. 109, is one of his last great piano works. Carve it out with strength and passion, and you have music that soars through the rafters. Bouboulidi, unfortunately, never quite mustered the necessary torque to get this powerhouse off the ground.

Lackluster tempos, tentative phrasing and a lack of boldness throughout undermined an already bloodless interpretation, and the climactic moments, rather than exploding in glory, just clattered away for a while before dropping abjectly to the ground.

The concluding work, Schubert's magnificent "Wanderer" fantasy in C Minor, Op. 15, didn't fare much better. Sure, it's over-performed -- even goatherds in the Kalahari roll their eyes when they hear those familiar opening chords -- but this is some of Schubert's most fearless and innovative writing. Bouboulidi's account was, again, disappointingly timid -- a meek and fretful Wanderer with his eyes on the ground, tiptoeing on the rocky trail, wanting only to get home and safely into bed.

-- Stephen Brookes

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