Though he began with an accomplished rendering of a Mozart sonata, and played a shimmering selection by Debussy for an encore, pianist Jeffrey Campbell devoted the bulk of his recital last night at the National Gallery of Art to three great Romantic composers -- Chopin, Schumann and Liszt.
Resplendent in a white bow tie and dinner jacket, Campbell proved himself a skilled interpreter of this virtuosic and frequently heart-wrenching musical style. And though he chose to perform a dangerously familiar selection of pieces, he managed to imbue each one with his own impassioned-yet-reasoned stamp.
The most distinctive aspect of Campbell's interpretation of Chopin's Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor was his marvelous tonal quality. Even the celebrated "Marche fune bre" theme -- universally sung to connote doom and gloom -- sounded hauntingly new. The equally well known Ballade No. 2 in F came off just as effectively, in this case because of the pianist's attention to details of phrasing and pulse. Liszt's swooning "Petrarch's Sonnet" No. 123 revealed a deeper, more pensive side to his playing. The "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6," however, proved both a blessing and curse for this confident musician. He captured the alternately somber and frolicsome nature of the work, and turned the repetitive figures into a woodpecker's relentless message. The flashy ending, though, became a muddy bog of overpedaled banged-out arpeggios.