Pianist Awadagin Pratt doesn't mess around. His hands don't hover expectantly above the keyboard before he begins. He doesn't wait for the audience to settle down. In fact he barely pauses between movements (or between pieces themselves, for that matter). At the National Gallery on Sunday, he played a big program of Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Franck and Bach with the sort of assured competence and musical authority that sweeps listeners along with him rather than asking for their compliance.
Of necessity, because the gallery's acoustics are not kind to details, it was the big picture in each of the pieces on the program that he communicated most effectively. The evolution of musical language and style represented in the progression from the Haydn Sonata in B-flat through the early Beethoven Sonata in E, Op. 14, to the lyricism and power of his much later Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110, spoke eloquently, and Pratt was as convincing in passages of sunny repose as in Beethoven's most passionate exclamations. Most impressive was the care and imagination with which he shaped the exposition of the Op. 110's fugue subject.
He moved almost seamlessly from the Chopin Nocturne in B, Op. 62, to Rachmaninoff's B Minor "Moment Musical" to a transcription of the Franck Op. 18 Prelude, Fugue and Variation, emphasizing the fantasy quality of their textures and structures and the similarity of their idioms.
The concluding pieces, Bach's Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue and Busoni's transcription of the Chaconne (from the D Minor Violin Partita), were the evening's least successful ventures, the ornamental ebullience of the first and the pounding harmonic excesses of the second overwhelmed by the hall's echoes.
-- Joan Reinthaler