Long, lanky Brian Ganz, a pianist who played in recital Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater, looked too big for the setting when he got up to take his bows. Even at the piano, sitting rather high, he seemed to consume everything around -- instrument, stage and audience alike. His manner exuded exuberance, innocence (not naivete) and generosity. One imagined he would have bearhugged the packed house one by one if given half a chance.
Fortunately, he did just that through the musicmaking, his vehicle works by Haydn, Chopin, Dutilleux and Brahms. Perhaps one might quibble about a too enthusiastic left hand in one of the Chopin mazurkas he played (Op. 33, No. 2), or the very strait-laced way he negotiated the German pieces (Haydn's F Minor and Brahms's "Handel" variations). But his sound throughout was rich and fine, his sense of timing astute. And the beautifully ethereal texture he managed at the end of Chopin's later E-flat Nocturne (Op. 55, No. 2) showed a rare ability to sustain a focused line at even the softest levels. These assets carried him well past any such reservations.
As accomplished, secure and tonally satisfying as the rest of the program was, Ganz's performance of Henri Dutilleux's rarely heard, fiercely poetic 1947 Sonata will likely remain one of this season's highlights. The complicated piece's inner counterpoint came alive under the pianist's studied fingers, its mercurial textures brought out with crystalline precision. What a shame that in this work's (and the Brahms's) ecstatic, clangorous final pages the hall's Steinway was unable to realize the pianist's generous vision.