Well, so much for the axiom that plunder from international piano wars goes to him, or her, who can go on the longest at the loudest. Last night saw a Kennedy Center debut by Jose' Feghali, the 24-year-old Brazilian who took the gold medal at last spring's seventh Van Cliburn Competition.
For a player who made such a splash in the deepest virtuoso waters, Feghali turned out to be a surprisingly subdued performer -- especially considering the barn-burning character of the program. Anyone who could get through the rigors of the colossal, and magnificent, Chopin F-minor Fantasy before intermission, as Feghali did, need not feel obliged to return with the even more daunting Schumann "Carnaval" afterward.
In the 21 gem-like miniatures of the Schumann, one encounters, perhaps more than in any other single work, a veritable lexicon of the vocabulary of romantic solo piano writing. If there is such a thing as a complete pianist, this -- in its incredible diversity -- is where you find out (try Rachmaninoff's recording if you want to know what completeness is all about).
In the most sweeping sections, Feghali did not transfix with his ardency. He was not always drawing the almost orchestral coloring that might have been heard. And his rhythm was not as bracing as it might have been. His performances were always thoughtful, but sometimes a little general.
One might have come away feeling a little indifferent about Feghali had it not been for a gorgeous lyric gift in some of the pensive moments. When he was playing a quiet cantabile at the top of the keyboard, as in the "Intermezzo" from "Carnaval," or in the exquisitely gauged end of the Chopin Fantasy, one heard real mastery.
But when the cantabile playing was louder, as in the Schumann prelude, some of that lovely resonance was lost.
At the start, in the bracing Haydn E-flat sonata, there was lovely passage work, but the sonata's spirit could have been more electric. Feghali's playing of the Bachianas Brasileiras No. 4 by his fellow Brazilian, Villa-Lobos, was massive and forceful.