Pianist Nicholas Angelich made Kennedy Center history Saturday afternoon with his performance of Liszt's "Annees de Pelerinage" ("Years of Pilgrimage") at the Terrace Theater. The recital marked the first time the three-hour cycle has been performed in its entirety at the center. And what an unforgettable marathon of pianism to conclude the Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series season.
Angelich, 34, maintained an intensely sensitive consciousness of melody, producing an encyclopedic array of textures throughout the recital. His relaxed keyboard technique eschewed ostentation; any broad arm movements served to benefit the music rather than draw attention to the artist. His pyrotechnic octaves in "Premiere annee: Suisse" looked effortless -- Angelich found no need to wipe his brow. But it was the superhuman quality of his lyricism and expression that made the performance transcendental.
Indeed, sometimes it seemed too metaphysical; Angelich's ascetic level of introspection meant pushing the limit on some reflective passages, occasionally taking too much liberty with time. Such lingering worked when he resolved chords that had melted away to nothingness -- especially breathtaking during the "Deuxieme annee: Italie" set. Otherwise the approach probably confused "Annees" first-timers in what amounted to many false endings.
With the recital already clocking 150 minutes, some audience members, not surprisingly, trickled out during the second intermission. But those who stayed for "Troisieme annee" were treated to Angelich's darker tonalities and rare dramatic nuances. And at recital's end, he still had enough energy to take a well-deserved victory lap with Chopin.
-- Grace Jean
Pianist Ning An, last year's winner of the William Kapell International Piano Competition, returned to the Gildenhorn Recital Hall at the University of Maryland's Smith Center on Saturday to remind us why he had won.
His ability to toss out delicate filigrees of scales, of the sort that lace Liszt's concert paraphrase of music from Verdi's "Rigoletto," might have had something to do with it, as might the energy and momentum he can impart to Schubert's "Drei Klavierstucke," D. 946. But, most probably, it was what he could do in music where his musical ideas were most in line with the composer's.
Deep down, An seems to be a Chopin man. He played the three Ballades with a compelling combination of intensity and a sense of leisure. He allowed the music to breathe and the sound to well out of the piano, and he had the patience and concentration needed to allow everything to happen in its own time. These pieces, played so often, bring an entourage of expectations. It's not easy to make them sound new and breathtaking, but An did.
The concert opened with the Mozart C Minor Sonata, K. 457, a piece whose delights reside in subtlety. Here An tried too hard to make things happen and turned in a reading that seemed overly aggressive and, at times, simply loud.
-- Joan Reinthaler
Fairfax Choral Society
The Fairfax Choral Society gave its patrons a once-in-a-lifetime experience Saturday night in Northern Virginia Community College's Schlesinger Concert Hall. The music, Richard Einhorn's 1994 opera/oratorio "Voices of Light," was performed with Carl Dreyer's 1928 silent film "The Passion of Joan of Arc" projected on a large screen above the chorus, orchestra and soloists.
Anonymous Four, the superb quartet of medieval specialists, made the final local appearance of its farewell season. Also performing as soloists were four of the Washington area's finest singers: soprano Amanda Balestrieri, mezzo-soprano Barbara Hollinshead, baritone Francois Loup and tenor Mark Bleeke. Douglas Mears conducted this elaborate array of singers and the excellent Fairfax Symphony Orchestra in one of the season's most powerful and engrossing musical events.
Einhorn's music was inspired by Dreyer's film. It can stand alone, but there is a synergistic element and both have their strongest impact when they are performed together. The film (shot almost entirely in close-ups of the actors' vividly expressive, sometimes grotesque faces) has a medieval flavor appropriate to its subject, the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. The dialogue (given in projected titles) is taken almost entirely from the transcript of that trial.
Einhorn's choral and solo texts do not refer explicitly to the action of the film; they are taken from Scripture and medieval sources, largely women, including Joan. Words and music project with fine precision the emotional overtones of what is happening on the screen. When it is described, this multi-media presentation may sound rather abstruse and complex. In performance, its impact was vigorously integrated.
-- Joseph McLellan