Buechner Is The Pianist, But the Score Is the Star

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

What strikes you immediately about the pianist Sara Davis Buechner is the honesty and integrity of her playing. Avoiding the mawkish facial gestures sometimes associated with concert pianists, Buechner stands back and lets each score speak for itself.

In the diffuse colors of Debussy or the syncopated rhythms of Gershwin, this artist becomes the picture of self-effacing restraint, putting thoughtful artistry in the full service of the music.

At Buechner's recital Sunday at the National Gallery of Art, a beginning combination of transcriptions of Handel and Haydn pieces served as sort of a musical jewel box, helping highlight the crystalline textures of Mozart's Sonata in F, K. 533/494.

The amiable rhythms and melodies of these light openers brought out the Mozart's inner tension, which is often lost in readings of cool elegance. Buechner's Mozart is carefully organized and lucid, rendered in a warmly rounded and unerringly pure tone.

This standoffish approach to music worked especially well in a suite of Debussy works, alternately conjuring up images of festive dance and wistful memories. Rarely heard salon works of Czech composer Rudolf Friml spoke in more direct terms with passages of lyrical sweetness and staccato drive.

Buechner is an ardent champion of this lost composer who eventually settled in the United States, and her thoroughgoing knowledge brought out every ounce of the music's charm.

Yet it took the music of Gershwin for Buechner to show her more exuberant side, highlighting the offbeat swagger of several of the composer's fox trot improvisations. Gershwin's famous, sprawling "Rhapsody in Blue" was rendered with unceasing drive and intelligence.

-- Daniel Ginsberg

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