Sponsored by the Arab American Cultural Foundation, Lebanese pianist Walid Howrani's benefit recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater Saturday evening was an enlightened cross-cultural affair. In a Middle East-meets-West music program, he premiered his own "Exotica for Alto Saxophone and Piano" and Lebanese-Armenian composer Boghos Gelalian's "Canzona e Toccata" alongside popular concert works by Schumann.
Critics worldwide have justifiably sung their praises for Howrani. His technical command, close attention to minute details and lucid interpretive powers are buoyed by a poetic sensitivity that is at once refined and free-spirited.
Howrani coaxed all of the nuances from Schumann's Arabeske, Op. 18, without stinting on the rhapsodic moments in the minor-key episodes. His approach to the composer's Carnaval, Op. 9--based on a four-note theme, proving that great opuses from little motives grow--met Schumann's fanciful musings head-on, with a suppleness of phrasing that illuminated the piece's "split personality."
A spirited reading of Marko Tajcevic's "Seven Balkan Dances" ushered in Gelalian's stormy "Canzona e Toccata," which was inspired by the recent wars in Lebanon. Howrani's own "Exotica," featuring Linda Frye Chaikin on alto saxophone, juxtaposed tragedy and festivity, as torrents of dark tonal clusters yielded to revelry themes in the saxophone. A novel touch occurred in the final movement, with the pianist's exultant whoops and pounding on the piano's top, imitating the sound of clay drums.