Ruth Laredo celebrated a black mass to a cheering crowd at Tawes Auditorium last night. The recital, part of the University of Maryland International Piano Festival, included the sinister Sonata No. 9, the "Black Mass" by Scriabin, as well as works by Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Ravel.
The program began with three mazurkas by Chopin, to which Laredo brought a strong rustic flavor as well as an expansive feeling for the dance. Here, as elsewhere in the evening, it was apparent that the pianist trusted her silence as much as her playing. She could make a "Luftpause" eloquent and she took dynamic and rhythmic risks that invariably proved worthwhile.
In Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata in F minor, the violent outer movements were dense but never unclean. The gentle harmonics of the middle movement were not allowed to linger, and the proportions of this piece emerged passionately triumphant.
In the Scriabin idiom Laredo was at her best. The "Black Mass" is barbaric, from the alternating major thirds and major sevenths at the outset through its bizarre contrasting rhythms. In the midst of all this, Laredo did not for a minute forget Scriabin's own instructions to play this piece "with a sweetness more and more caressing and poisoned."
In the second half, three lovely pieces by Rachmaninoff brought delicacy and resignation to mind. Then Laredo closed with Ravel's "La Valse," which is less profound and more difficult to play than it sounds. Her touch revealed it to be as colorful as a fauvist painting, far superior in scope to its better known orchestral version. Laredo is an artist of many moods, and all of then were most attractive last night.