Do music competitions reward musicians for the wrong things? This was one reaction to the Washington debut of pianist Christopher Park on Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection. Since winning the Leonard Bernstein Award at the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival in 2014, Park has appeared with orchestras in Germany and elsewhere. One of his mentors has been Christoph Eschenbach, outgoing music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, who was in the audience.
With Stravinsky’s “Three Movements From Petrushka,” Park certainly showed that his playing can be both supremely fast and supremely loud. The pursuit of rapidity meant there was little room for nuance in the outer movements — no sense of dance in the “Danse russe” and no pacing of an overall climax in “The Shrovetide Fair.” Park had already given away the store in terms of maximum sound long before the movement reached its greatest chaos.
An equally rushed rendition of Beethoven’s “Appassionata” sonata was so exciting and hammered that many details never really registered. A fast tempo choice made the slow movement almost martial in tone, but Park’s first half had already shown that he was not that concerned with fine details of sound. Bach’s French Suite No. 2 in C Minor was veiled in an obfuscating over-application of the sustaining pedal, albeit with some extravagant embellishments on repeats, including what sounded like an added middle voice in the Menuet.
The slow movement of an early Beethoven sonata, Op. 10, No. 3, was deliberate and plodding, not only indistinctive but sometimes also crass. The high point of the recital was the Haydnesque first and fourth movements of this minor work, where Park seemed to stop worrying about making an impression and just had fun with the hurly-burly and buffoonery.