Theodore Edel, a recent graduate of Juilliard, made his Washington debut at the Phillips Collection last night and proved to have an impressive command of the piano's rich sonorities and to be a splendid lyricist.
His program began and ended with Schubert--first, the C-minor Sonata, and, as an encore, the beguilingly simple second of the "Moments Musicaux." In between were two stem-winding blockbusters, Liszt's "Dante" Sonata and Prokofiev's Eighth Sonata.
No pianist should be disturbed to hear that his Schubert seemed more musical than his more stentorian Liszt or Prokofiev. Schubert is more musical than either of the others.
The C-minor Sonata is one of Schubert's stormier piano works. Its ground plan is not so different from the other massive late Schubert sonatas that fairly glow in their pristine major keys. But in this work, as in the "Unfinished" Symphony, the glow is darker and the resolution is gloomy.
Edel's voicing of the fully harmonized passages was rich and full. His runs and arpeggios were beautifully even. And the dynamic contrasts were sharp. He might, though, want to put the sonata on a tenser rhythmic leash than he did last night. As with his Schubert encore, its lovely song unfolded with tenderness.
Of the other sonatas, the Liszt worked best. The performance wasn't the last word in electricity, but it was full of drama. The Prokofiev seemed flat. Those heart-tugging little switches between major and minor over and over in a single tune--as in "Romeo and Juliet"--weren't played for their full poignancy, and the propulsive parts of the finale failed to breathe fire.
Edel sounded tired, and, considering what had come before, the explanation might be just as simple as that. In other words, the lesson may be: Don't schedule the kind of program Horowitz used to unless you are feeling as strong as the Horowitz of about 30 years ago.