The scanty turnout for the Urban Philharmonic Society's free concert last week at the Sumner School revealed more about the sponsor's zero publicity budget than its taste in music. If this recital by Earl Carlyss and pianist Awadagin Pratt indicates the quality of what lies ahead, that rose-colored room should be filled elbow-to-elbow by winter.
This program, a collaboration between two distinct musical personalities, was proof that you don't have to be of one mind to play Brahms duets. Carlyss, a former Juilliard Quartet violinist who helped set standards for generations of powerhouse instrumentalists, spins out full-blown and extroverted phrases. Pratt, a somewhat more unpredictable and moodier performer, is especially attuned to the Romantic piano's texture and color. No musical dialectic was this, however. Both players found a common ground in Brahms's expressive and reflective qualities.
In Op. 100 and Op. 78, for which Brahms mines song materials, Carlyss emphasized the linear dimension of his part's quasi-vocal lines. These rather innocent-seeming song melodies work themselves out in arpeggio figures. In the stunningly dramatic development sections, Pratt spun out magnificent hues with impressive restraint and flexibility. In Op. 100's second movement, an odd combination of slow movement and scherzo, the rhythmic irregularities were beautifully shaped. In the Allegretto, a rondo of subtle, dreamy emotions, a palette of colors resounded from the piano's lower registers without ever seeming murky.
In Op. 108, where Brahms works and reworks short fragments with rugged, aggressive logic, Carlyss and Pratt interwove all the elements. Any loose ends in the interpretation -- nothing that a few more rehearsals wouldn't have solved -- were counterbalanced by a sense of rediscovery.