Erring on the side of too much feeling is seldom really tragic. And so it was that pianist Duane Hulbert's Washington debut last night at the Pan American Union delighted, even in the frequent absence of refinement and control.
The Gina Bachauer Competition winner traversed the repertory from Bach to Barber, but it was in works of Chopin and Albeniz that his talent shone the brightest. To Chopin's Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61, Hulbert brought a vivid dreaminess that gave the music the texture of crushed velvet. And if much of Chopin's music has a longing for lost lands, the work of Albeniz is as often a rejoicing of life in the homeland. Three well-chosen excerpts from his formidable "Iberia" were given an expansive, loud and lively reading by Hulbert. "Corpus Cristi en Sevilla" evoked images of crystal tears on wooden saints, and if the rhythmic phrasing of "Triana" flirted with cliches, "Evocacion" was masterfully wailed in the best flamenco voice.
Bach opened the program and Barber closed it. With both, the pianist's flexible beat and capricious articulation gave the impression that he was not always listening as he played. Barber's Sonata Op. 26 displayed his authoritative touch to advantage, but Bach's Toccata in D Major suffered from overuse of the pedal, which made its middle section seem hours too long.