Most of the music on pianist Jeffrey Biegel's recital at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater Thursday night fell into the category of what pianists call "finger crunchers." That's the G-rated term for music so difficult technically that even today's super-proficient competition pianists find it almost unplayable. These pieces -- ranging from a Bach toccata to Balakirev's ferocious "Islamey" -- were certainly works Biegel could get through. Unfortunately, after all the fortissimo pounding, frenzied octaves and breakneck scales, one was left with the impression of a grudge match rather than an evening of musicmaking.
Biegel's volume, speed and agility are finally a handicap musically. He, like some other competition winners, has all the firepower one could want, but only a clumsy-student level of interpretive insight. This was particularly noticeable in his unfocused playing of the Chopin "Funeral March" Sonata and Schumann's "Symphonic Etudes." These are familiar works in which the details count. Biegel's entrances were unclear, his sound in the lower register was murky, important rhythms were sometimes inexact, and, surprisingly, more than a few wrong notes were played.
Works by Scriabin, Cesar Cui and Anton Rubinstein filled out the program, and here too Biegel got his fingers on the notes, but failed to find the music.