Czech pianist Boris Krajny showed up for his recital Tuesday at the Czech Embassy too early--a few weeks too early. He arrived with a sterling reputation as a poetic and technically assured interpreter, and sat down at the keyboard at the appointed date and time. But he had to play on the embassy's sad little Baldwin baby grand piano, an inadequate instrument that is scheduled for retirement from concert performance in the coming weeks. The embassy has been raising funds for a handsome new instrument, and for its small performance space--salonlike, we should say--extra care is needed in fitting the instrument to the room. A run-of-the-mill concert grand would blow out listeners' ears.
Meanwhile, Krajny looked unhappy for his recital, which was slimmed down to one hour. (Some Beethoven pieces, originally part of the program, had been dropped.) Leos Janacek's music filled the concert's first half, beginning with the introspective "In the Mists," where episodes of tranquillity are interrupted by pent-up outbursts of frustration. It was obvious Krajny was trying to produce a textured and nuanced musical line, and even on this piano he was able to operate on many levels. And it would have been fascinating to hear the subtlety of his approach: Would he find raw, gritty, folksy sounds in the score, emphasizing the flatted, black keys? Or were there underlying silken sounds to be brought forward from the notes? It was impossible to tell because he had to spend the evening fighting the instrument.
After intermission, four Chopin pieces--including the Polonaise-Fantasie, the C Minor Nocturne and the F Minor Ballade--showed Krajny as a colorist and a compelling musical storyteller. In the Barcarole in F-sharp, he attempted to produce shifting moods and great waves of sound, all with a rich tonal palette. But the piano wasn't up to the job. One hopes Krajny will be invited back soon and shown a worthy instrument.