At National Gallery, piano program from Wilhem Latchoumia befitting Gauguin

Thursday, March 3, 2011; 8:06 PM

French pianist Wilhem Latchoumia squeezed a lot of music into his one-hour lunchtime concert at the National Gallery of Art's East Building on Wednesday. An adjunct to the Gauguin exhibition there, his program centered on French and French-oriented composers who transmuted into sound some of the concepts driving the paintings and poetry of impressionism, post-impressionism and symbolism. The performance included works by Debussy, Ravel, Reynaldo Hahn and Andre Boucourechliev, whose musical sonorities depict visual images.

Latchoumia is a perfect match for this music. Along with some strong-armed fortes, he skimmed over the keys in Debussy's "Reflets" (from "Images," Book I) and "Six Epigraphes antiques" with a touch as lightly brushed as Claude Monet's hazy views of Reims cathedral. The effect was further muted by his consistent use of the pedals. Pliant wrist action, supple phrases etched with finesse and unflagging mobility over the keyboard's expanse, underscored his sense of delicacy.

Works by the Brazilian Heitor Villa-Lobos, Paraguayan Jorge "Lobito" Martinez and Cuban Ignacio Cervantes underscored the fusion of cultures in Latin America - its mixture of indigenous, Iberian and African musical legacies, most prominent in the works' rhythmic styles.

Here Latchoumia's firm sense of control and intense concentration came into play in keen characterizations of visual subject matter, such as the ethnically diverse dolls - some wistful, some mischievous - of Villa-Lobos' "Prole do bebe" (Set 1). The second of Hahn's melodious "Deux Etudes" suggested the bright rhythms of ragtime.

Although a memory lapse marred Cervantes' "Ilusiones perdidas," the appreciative audience called for an encore. The next concert in the National Gallery's free noontime series is March 16.

- Cecelia Porter

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