Pianist Charlie Albright shines in Kennedy Center debut

By Charles T. Downey
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 15, 2011; 7:09 PM

Charlie Albright would make even a Tiger Mother proud. The 22-year-old American pianist, who is simultaneously studying economics, pre-med and music at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory of Music, gave his Kennedy Center debut on Monday night. The prodigious recital, presented by Young Concert Artists in the Terrace Theater, demonstrated that Albright is among the most gifted musicians of his generation.

The program opened with Janacek's Piano Sonata, subtitled "1.X.1905," a bold choice that highlighted Albright's ability to produce a soft but still exquisitely phrased tone. An impressive range of differently colored sounds at the keyboard was matched by overwhelming virtuosity. Both were on display in the closing work, the 12 demanding etudes of Chopin's Op. 25. Albright leapt the most outrageous technical hurdles - the whirring parallel thirds of No. 6, the berserk rage of octaves in No. 10 and the wind-swept Alpine desert of No. 11 - with a sense of dangerous self-abandon that was thrilling to hear.

At the same time, musical shape was never sacrificed to showmanship, in the Chopin or the many spirited passages of Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in D, K. 448. Albright's fine performance, with former YCA laureate Anne-Marie McDermott on the second part, was offered in honor of YCA's 50th anniversary. Two movements of Chris Rogerson's "Til It Was Dark," a YCA commission, had their own challenges, including clashing bell-like clusters and ecstatic shrieks. For a Valentine's Day encore, Albright played Liszt's schmaltzy arrangement of "Widmung," the wedding present from Robert Schumann to his wife, Clara.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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