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A Pianist Is Delightful While the Weather Is Frightful

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Pianist Alan Feinberg's recital Sunday night at the National Gallery of Art was a treat for those few who braved the elements to attend. An advocate of American composers, Feinberg was a natural choice for the second concert of the 62nd American Music Festival (presented by the gallery in conjunction with its Jasper Johns exhibit), and Feinberg brought dazzling facility to a diverse repertoire.

Feinberg's impeccable sense of rhythm, and particularly American rhythms, unified his performances. Three two-part studies by Conlon Nancarrow, in which the pianist's left and right hands move in separate rhythms and dispatch sprays of notes, sparkled.

John Cage's "Bacchanale" overcame a few static sections with a headlong, sometimes jazzy pulse and the tangy twangs and plunks of the prepared piano.

Feinberg even managed to find an amusing work by the normally abstruse Milton Babbitt, mining "Playing for Time" for wry rhythmic wit.

Two pieces by Charles Ives, "The Celestial Railroad" and "The Alcotts," had some jagged edges rounded off, but the momentum that resulted heightened the music's drama. Robert Helps's spiky, challenging "Music for Left Hand: Three Studies" got a commanding performance from his former student.

Feinberg also played a clutch of Helps's song transcriptions, including a luminous version of John Ireland's "Love Is a Sickness Full of Woes."

And Feinberg captured the feel of the day with Morton Feldman's "Palais de Mari," with gorgeous blurred dissonances and sustained pauses that seemed to reflect the white stillness of the snowy city outside.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

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