Ask pianist his vision of paradise and he's apt to describe evening upon evening of all-Chopin recitals. The Dumbarton Concert Series offered a small glimpse of this kind of heaven Friday night as two artists opened a two-day Chopin birthday celebration.
Virtually all of Chopin's music is for solo piano, but the breadth and scope of his works is truly all-encompassing. Thus an entire concert -- or two -- devoted to Chopin promises to be lively and fully satisfying.
Virginia Lum started off with two of the four Ballades (A-flat major and F minor). The first selection wandered a bit initially with too-heavy pedaling and disjointed ornamental passages, but a solid focus finally took over. The F minor work, however, was elegantly controlled from the beginning. Lum's legato melody sang with real distinction and genuinely captured the essence of Chopin's tremendous harmonic invention.
Raymond Jackson got tangled in several passages, but he recovered each time for some handsome playing. The C-sharp minor Scherzo, not at all light or humorous as the title might suggest, contained firm and effortless octave dashes and arpeggios. The building tension in the complex G minor Ballade was impressive, as was the gentle spirit in the Berceuse.
Hardy souls who braved the snow Saturday night were amply rewarded by the second observance of Chopin's 176th birthday. It consisted of pieces representative of Chopin's unique lyrical nature and works that reflect Poland's national spirit. Regardless of character, everything played was written after the composer left his homeland for Paris in 1830.
Evelyn Swarthout, grand dame of the keyboard and herself a musical institution, reigned supreme over the first half of the concert with the introspective Chopin. Her every movement was pure elegance, every fluid tone a model of relaxation. The D-flat major Nocturne, Op. 27, No. 2, with its play of thirds and sixths, seemed an ideal vehicle for Swarthout's artful economy of motion. The Barcarolle was articulated with exceptional clarity, a wonderful bell-like ring and respect for the two-voiced structure.
Polish-born Maciej Szymanski, troubled by the flu, breezed through the massive chords of the triumphant "Military" Polonaise, and neatly passed the Op. 34 Waltzes' broad leaps and elegiac melodies. He proved a facile technician, especially in the B minor Scherzo (in spite of a disappointing falter in the turbulent conclusion), but his superb poetry in the quiet middle section was even more noteworthy. Likewise, the golden Nocturne (Op. 9, No. 2) offered as an encore approached pure magic.