The beginning of a new music series at the Folger Shakespeare Library was the occasion of a splendid Washington debut last night. Pianist Philippe Bianconi opened the "Jeunes Musiciens Francais" presented by the French Embassy in the Library's Great Hall. His program included music of Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann and Ravel in a challenge of versatility and style.
Throughout the night, Bianconi's playing was far from literal and always close to the soul of the music, filling the space with poetry and life. At the heart of the concert was Beethoven's last sonata, Op. 111. The sole message of its opening chords is strength, heroic and superhuman. Its powerful first theme is always familiar, not so much from previous hearings as from almost forgotten, violent dreams. Bianconi was not gentle to this music, yet he allowed it to live fully. When he lacked dynamic thunder his touch was still valiant and daring. And in the adagio what he missed in majesty he gained in sorrow exposed in all its depth.The momentum leading to the finale was irresistible, the jazzy abandon of his rhythm surprised and pleased.
If the rewards of Bianconi's Beethoven came through the labors of craft and feeling, his reading of Mozart's Variations on a Minuet by Duport, K. 573 was delightfully, effortlessly light.Several remantic mannerisms did not matter in this charming performance, particularly in the serene moments, and the smiles the piece provoked were fine tributes to this winning young pianist.