Compositions by Scott Joplin and Thomas "Fats" Waller are not exactly common fare at most piano recitals. So it was a treat indeed to listen to Harvey Jacobson's interpretations of these great black Americans' music last night at the German Embassy.
Jacobson, a local performer and teacher (George McGovern is one of his students), ardently believes in the promotion of this country's musical heritage; he punctuated his concert, which also included works by Edward McDowell and himself, with verbal commentary that reviewed these composers as classical as well as popular artists.
Jacobson's forte is Joplin's subtle, suggestive rags and waltzes. These pieces sound deceptively simple, but they require a formidable technique and buttery tone. The pianist's sly phrasing and pauses set one musing about rocking chairs, mint juleps, and magnolia trees. Waller's "Swingtime in Scotland" pieces direct the listener toward a far different terrain, injecting a collection of beloved tunes ("Auld Lang Syne," "Coming Through the Rye,") with the daring syncopations and unexpected harmonies of swing. Jacobson's touch seemed a bit tentative here.
McDowell's Virtuoso Etudes, five lyrical but rather predictable studies, allowed the pianist to show off his digital skills, but had him working too hard and too bombastically. Jacobson's half-jazzy, half-movie musical compositions closed the program on a syrupy note.