Awadagin Pratt is probably not the first pianist you'd go to for classical restraint or chiseled perfection. As his Beethoven and Liszt recital at Rockville's Fitzgerald Theatre on Saturday showed, his playing is of a more elemental strain, his phrasing seemingly forged from instinctual, in-the-moment responses to the music at hand. "Seemingly," because a tremendous amount of analytical thought and living with the music has clearly taken place. He played Saturday's program (without scores) with breathtaking virtuosity and a deconstructive rethinking of the composers' work.
Pratt's probing accounts of two late-career Beethoven masterpieces -- Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, and Sonata No.31, Op. 110 -- gave the palpable sense of the composer at the keyboard trying out new ideas and searching for musical truths. That said, it must be acknowledged that Pratt's musical truth sometimes involved breaking the musical line into isolated events, or choosing torrential power over note accuracy and a satisfying balance of inner voices.
Liszt's monumental B-Minor Sonata had its share of lumpen phrasing as well -- the gnomic way with the opening, the rather diffident rendering of the big theme's first statement, the shallow-toned pecking at the right-hand figures in more active passages -- but Pratt took his time in the ruminative writing and found its elusive sublimity.
-- Joe Banno