The Hall of the Americas -- that vast, beautiful echo chamber at the Organization of American States -- has pitfalls for any pianist but especially for young pianists who win international competitions. They tend to be especially good at music that is loud, fast and brilliant -- the music for which the hall's acoustics are most troublesome, with the ghosts of chords gone by hanging around, haunting newborn chords. What the hall needs is lots of velvet drapes. Perhaps the OAS should start a fund.
Last night's pianist in that hall was brilliant, young Robert McDonald, who has won prizes in the last few years from the University of Maryland International Competition, the National Federation of Music CLubs and the Washington International Competition. He spent the evening in a sonic haze -- always present to some degree, though less severe in Mozart (who sounded like a robust, young Beethoven) and Chopin (who sounded like Chopin) than in Bartok, Villa-Lobos and some passages of Schumann.
Nonetheless, the Bartok Piano Sonata was hair-raising: precisely on target; vigorous to the point of brutality and dramatically expressive, not only in the knuckle-cracking outer movements but in the slow, thoughtful center movement. Sections from the Villa-Lobos "Prole do bebe'" were quaint, charming and acrobatic, as they should be. Schumann's "Humoreske" Op. 20 was delightful in each of its short segments but overall perhaps too much of a good thing.
Although he is most impressive when the music is most brilliant, McDonald has a fine gift for lyric phrasing, which he used effectively in Chopin, Schumann and Mozart. His program was tastefully chosen to display a variety of talents, and it succeeded admirably, at least for those who were seated in the front rows.