Pianist Deniz Gelenbe's recital last night in the lovely East Garden of the National Gallery of Art seemed oddly in keeping with the darkness and rain that fell outside. The program consisted of somber, moody works, mostly in minor keys--four ballades by Brahms, his well-known rhapsodies in B and G minor and Schumann's symphonic e'tudes. These pieces share a tense, brooding quality; played in succession here, they tended almost to cancel one another out.
Gelenbe, a dark-haired, elegant woman, exhibits a strong technique but a rather bombastic, unsubtle touch. Her readings of the Brahms selections were heavy and murky; one also felt her choppily "coming up for air" rather than phrasing and shaping in any fully realized way.
What baffled this listener most was that the pianist had not committed to memory the long and difficult e'tudes. Not only that, but she spent a good part of her time flipping back and forth through her music; a page turner would certainly have allowed her to concentrate more carefully on the flow and direction of these contrasting variations. Gelenbe appeared to have considered each e'tude separately, and some much more intensely than others, for her interpretations veered from erratic and half-baked to poetic and vibrant.