Pianist-composer Haskell Small, one of Washington's most notable musicians, gave a program that was both thoughtful and technically brilliant Wednesday evening at the Washington Hebrew Congregation. The program, as he announced at its beginning, featured music of three centuries, by Mozart, Brahms and Antheil.
Antheil? Small had never heard of George Antheil (best known for his "Ballet Mecanique"), he told the audience, until he read a critic who named Antheil as an influence on his compositions. Intrigued, he looked up Antheil's work and was taken with it. At Wednesday's concert he played (from memory) 16 of the 100 pieces in Antheil's "La Femme 100 Tetes," based on drawings by the surrealist artist Max Ernst. (Antheil was, of course, carrying on the tradition of Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition." Interestingly, Small the composer is working in the same tradition, setting to music Renoir's painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" in the Phillips Collection.)
Antheil's miniatures follow faithfully such directions as "faintly energetic," "floating," "sad" and "brilliant, fast, tricky," each piece establishing a distinctive character with no distraction and often with great technical demands, which Small fulfilled easily.
The pictorial and emotional logic of Antheil's brevities contrasted piquantly with the purely musical logic of Mozart's Sonata in B-flat (K. 570) and the vast, late-romantic architecture of Brahms's youthful, sometimes overstated Sonata in F Minor, Op. 5. Small adopted each of the evening's diverse styles as though it were his favorite.
-- Joseph McLellan