It often seems that Vladimir Ashkenazy holds the piano in complete thrall - at least in the repertoire he generally plays, which is that of the romantic giants of the 19th century.
Last night at the Kennedy Center, Ashkenazy opened the evening with the first of the Opus 31 sonatas by Beethoven, the one in G Majors that is usually neglected for its close kin in E Flat and D Minor. Immediately there were apparent that the remarkable control of touch, degrees of staccatos, subtle mastery of the pedal and, above all, the classical bravura that is the essence of this sonata. Ashkenazy took precisely the right to approach to the music, which is Beethovan still enthralled by the spirit of Haydn.
To all these assets, Ashkenazy added that pungent feeling for the quintessential romantic stile exemplified, if at too great length, in Schumann's Davidsbundlertanze. One of Schumann's specific declarations of independence, this set of 18 varying rythmical movements calls for close attention to singing tone, the sustaining pedal and infinite shades of tone. Yet all these must serve the poet's whimsical shifts in mood. Ashkenazy found the perfect approach for each.
In his Chopin, which included the big Fantasy, the A Flat Ballade, the neglected F Sharp Minor Nocturne and the C Sharp Minor Scherzo, there was a grand sweep in all but the Ballade, which opened almost casually, superficially, and rushed a bit along the way. But for the beauty of the Nocturne and all the rest, Ashkenazy was entitled to the audience's unchecked enthusiasm.