Musical performance approaches the sublime when the interpreter is able to dissolve the wall separating him from that other human being in the equation, the composer. At such times there is magic in the concert hall and every note is surrounded by an aura of inevitability.
There were some of those magic moments at the University of Maryland on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when pianists Jeanne-Marie Darre and Charles Rosen performed as part of the eighth international piano festival.
Darre's forte is the big romantic repertoire - Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninoff. If she is less well known in this country than some pianists, it may be because much of her time is devoted to teaching as a full-time professor at the Paris Conservatoire. The magic came with Chopin, wich she has been playing for over 50 years. From that long association, which includes a period of annual all-Chopin recitals in Paris has come the special understanding which marks an enduring relationship.
Whether it was in the brilliant decorative passages or the simple melodies of, for example, the opening "Barcarolle" or the "Waltz", Op. 42" she found the poignancy, that quality of longing, which underlies all Chopin. Her touch shifted as rapidly and effortlessly as the music, from extraordinarily light and delicate for filigreed measures to a warm legato for the melodic passages.
Given the depth of her interpretation it is difficult to explain why Darre tended to turn the end of every piece into a tasteless blend of faster tempo, murky pedaling and harsh tone. If long relationships allow for the occasional eccentricity, perhaps Chopin understands - and forgives.
As the holder of a Ph.D. in French literature, a Phi Beta Kappa and a prize-winning author, Charles Rosen is something of an intellectual among pianists. He is to be applauded for having the courage to reveal that, indeed, contemporary composers do exist. For his program he chose two of the most difficult - Pierre Boulez and Elliott Carter - to couple with Debussy.
Despite a performance fervent enough to border on advocacy, the two movements from Boulez' "Sonata No. 3" came across as maddeningly pointillistic with the kind of aural incomprehensibility that enrages listeners. Elliott Carter's "Sonata" of 1945 was magic.
Characteristically, the Carter "Sonata" is a prickly, complex work, requiring intense concentration from both performer and listener. But everyone knows Carter's music is difficult. What Rosen made unmistakably clear is that this music is also emotionally charged and should not be lumped with brittle serial exercises. Rosen's performance was powerful, combining, like the work itself, the highest technical, intellectual and emotional resources. It was a case of one passionate intellect meeting another.