Classical music purists had no safe harbor in the program Aki Takahashi played at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage on Wednesday: Everything that had a hummable tune also had firm roots in pop. The pianist, giving the first U.S. recital of her long and distinguished career as part of the Kennedy Center's "Japan! Culture and Hyperculture" festival, has made her way by exploring her own interests, regardless of where they take her, and her tastes and styles made a unique impression here.
It seemed unlikely that someone who could draw the pale-chalk chords of Morton Feldman's "Piano Piece (for Philip Guston)" with such balance and clarity could later toss off a convincing tango, but Takahashi gave life to five wildly varying takes on the genre, including Darius Milhaud's glossing of rhythms with arch French wit, Conlon Nancarrow's shattering of rhythm and melody into little shards that didn't quite match up, and even Akira Nishimura's relatively straightforward essay.
For her famous "Hyper Beatles Series," Takahashi asked contemporary composers to play with Beatles songs, and she presented four of the resulting pieces on Wednesday. Particularly appealing were Bunita Marcus's transformation of "Julia," which began with some surreal lyrics Takahashi intoned before settling into a lush lyrical groove, and Frederic Rzewski's "Meditation on 'Give Peace a Chance,' " first shot through with storms and spikes before transforming into a kind of fraught ecstasy.
But the quality of her playing -- concentrated and reflective, yet warm -- came through most clearly in the Feldman piece and in John Cage's "In a Landscape," a stream of quiet, searching arpeggios. Here, Takahashi made each note glisten individually, and then connected the resulting harmonies into a hesitant, wayward, fascinating path forward.
-- Andrew Lindemann Malone
Trio con Brio Copenhagen
Maurice Ravel completed his Piano Trio, one of chamber music's pinnacles, near the beginning of the titanic clash of World War I. The piece can be heard as an act of inner exile, a composer applying sophisticated structures and exotic harmonies to conjure landscapes away from the battlefields he would later glimpse as a military driver. A sense of lightness and nuance is required for such profundities to arise -- after all, this is classical music French-style from an always refined and elegant composer.
Trio con Brio Copenhagen, a rising ensemble that took the stage at Maryland's Gildenhorn Recital Hall on Wednesday evening, has an entirely different take on this music.
Their Ravel was something more grand and adamant, as though portraying conflict itself. A brightly striated sound, almost symphonic in scale, dominated. Huge climaxes emerged out of swiftly taken figures in the outer movements, while the usually softer inner sections provided little respite from a relentless sonic build-up. Rarely has the work seemed so ferocious and swift. The ultimate impression, though, was that this interpretation needed more time in the bottle to age and gain roundness.
Trio con Brio Copenhagen's form of italicized musicmaking worked superbly in Brahms's Piano Trio in B, Op. 8. In this epitome of romantic music, the group let in some air and wonderfully etched the arching melodies that express love, loss and remembrance. A highlight was the third movement, when these golden violin and cello figures perched on warm piano chords.
-- Daniel Ginsberg