The playing of pianist Robert Casadesus, who died in the early '70s, personified the French ideal of elegant control and transparent beauty. It was no surprise, therefore, to find Philippe Bianconi, this year's winner of the Casadesus International Piano Competition, exhibiting these same qualities in his Washington debut recital at the Phillips yesterday afternoon.
Every aspect of this young artist, apart from the surname, which is a legacy from his Italian grandfather, points to the Gallic musical heritage. His sound possesses no rough edges. His finely shaded tone sings with a pure and seemingly effortless sweetness, particularly effective in the opening work, Mozart's Variations on a Menuet of Duport, K. 573. The most complex textures, as Bianconi demonstrated in Beethoven's Sonata No. 31, Op. 110, unfold with immaculate clarity.
Despite such an impressive list of virtues, this 21-year-old pianist for the most part skirted the edges of a truly moving performance. Though he brought exceptional lucidity to the music, he offered few moments of genuine insight or, in the Debussy selections, ravishing surprise. To enter the realm of the great French artists he must search more deeply, both within himself and the music.
Among those attending the concert were Gaby Casadesus, the pianist's widow, and her daughter.