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-- Celia Wren
Alexandre Tharaud's Friday night recital filled the auditorium of the House of France D.C., as La Maison Française now wants to be known. Since his 2005 debut at the Kennedy Center, the French pianist has developed quite a following in Washington, including Roland Celette, the French cultural attache.
Tharaud performed two signature works from his critically acclaimed discography, beginning with Ravel's "Miroirs." Tharaud's pianism, while formidable, is not unassailable, as a few minor slips toward the end of "Une Barque sur l'Océan" showed. Rather, it was the thoughtfulness of his playing and the careful creation of vivid soundscapes that impressed, like the quicksilver fluttering of "Noctuelles," the rainbow plumage of the "Oiseaux Tristes" and the sere, guitar-like serenade of "L'Alborada del Gracioso."
Chopin's op. 28 Preludes followed, a work Tharaud has described as "shot through with violence and death." Even in the most serene movements, a restless fear loomed, bursting out in a deathly shudder in No. 14, booming pedal-point sforzandos in No. 17, and the hollow wallop of the three final notes of No. 24, a low D that resonated like a slammed sarcophagus lid. At its best, Tharaud's performance captured the chimerical nature of this set of 24 pieces, preludes to nothing, mostly miniatures that dissolve like spun sugar a moment after tasting.
Two baroque encores, the gentle Adagio from Bach's D Minor Concerto (BWV 974), adapted from an oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello) and the percussive "Tic-Toc-Choc" from Couperin's 18th Ordre, again demonstrated the link between later French composers and their 18th-century forebears.
-- Charles T. Downey