Pianist Gary Graffman was not at his best last night at his University of Maryland recital. Certainly even great artists have their off days now and then, but for Graffman it was particularly unfortunate timing, coming as it did only a few hours after Walter Robert's sublime master class on the technical aspects of musical poetry.
The University of Maryland's International Piano Festival is both a demanding and an exhilarating forum for a performer. The audience knows the music, really knows it from the inside out. Throughout the day the finest teachers in the business analyze and coach and take masterpieces apart for close inspection. A performance close on the heels of this sort of critical inspiration is bound to have tensions all its own.
Graffman drew on Bach, Beethoven and Brahms for the occasion and threw in some Mendelssohn and Haydn for alphabetic variety, and none of this music was particularly satisfying. There were technical slips and a memory lapse or two, but these, in themselves, were not significant. What was significant was a pervasive sense of ennui in these performances. They sounded overworked, stale and rather uninvolved.
There was a lack of contrast in the opening chords of the second movement of the Beethoven Opus 110 sonata, in the Brahms C Sharp Minor Intermezzo and in the Haydn Adagio. There were uncomfortable tempo relationships and lumpy bridge passages.
Yesterday morning in his master class, Robert sought to reveal the magic of Bach and others to three young pianists for the first time. Graffman's challenge is to maintain and to renew for himself this sense of wonder and freshness for the umpteenth time.