Pianist Barbara Elliott Bailey's program at the Phillips Collection yesterday afternoon was a mixed affair, with the 20th-century selections generally faring better than music from the Romantic era.
Charles Griffes' Sonata in F (1917-1918) offers an abundance of riches, highlighting passages of incandescent lyricism against massive, obsessive eruptions. Bailey captured much of the work's stark beauty, developing broadly expansive themes that at times virtually disintegrated into sheer celebrations of tonal color.
Bailey was equally confident in less explosive selections from Debussy's "Estampe." Her finely balanced chord passages in "Soire'e dans Grenade," a piece with Latin rhythms and flowing melodies, evoked a Spanish mood. She was particularly impressive in the intricately embellished melodies (including two French folk tunes) of "Jardins sous la pluie."
Bailey began with "Variations se'rieuses," Op. 54, one of Mendelssohn's larger scale pieces for piano. Although they offer plenty of opportunity for virtuoso display, these variations also possess considerable substance. Mendelssohn's brooding scene is transformed by an arsenal of pianistic effects in some sections, but the widely divergent variations also encompass more lyrical treatments of the melody. Bailey handled rapid-fire arpeggios flawlessly, but in other variations her right-hand runs were not always clear. She displayed more control in variations calling for legato development of the melodic line.
Occasional murky runs and moments of hesistancy also marred parts of Beethoven's Sonata No. 31, Op. 110, particularly in the first two movements, but they were less frequent in Chopin's Barcarolle in F-sharp, Op. 60. Bailey's balance and dynamic control were most evident in her treatment of the sweeping melody, which was clearly defined amid Chopin's sumptuous harmonies.