Spanish pianist Javier Perianes’s performance on Saturday at the University of the District of Columbia was advertised as a solo recital, but one would have been forgiven for thinking that two different artists had been on the bill.
In the all-Schubert half of the recital, sponsored by Washington Performing Arts, Perianes inhabited almost a caricature of the composer’s sound world: lyrical, delicate and ever so restrained, sometimes to a fault. After intermission, a seemingly new pianist emerged to take on Spanish and Spanish-inspired music: more extroverted, more relaxed, more splashy. The effect was whiplash-inducing, and the recital as a whole suggested both the power and limitations of the ideas of national character and idiomatic interpretation in music.
Perianes’s conception of Schubert is as the fragile poet of the keyboard spinning out exquisite melodies. The Spaniard brought a remarkable refinement of touch, delicate shadings of color and a beautiful singing line to Schubert’s Sonata No. 13 in A, D. 664, and the “Klavierstücke.” The sonata’s opening movement was all sunny elegance, while the Andante — slowed nearly to its breaking point — mesmerized with its hushed lyricism and sheer sense of control.
Yet Perianes’s restraint verged on overkill at times, when the music called out for greater dramatic contrasts. The finale of the sonata lacked urgency and drive, while the cross rhythms of the third “Klavierstücke” emerged overly measured and lifeless.
The second half of the recital, devoted to Falla, Isaac Albéniz and Debussy in his Spanish mode, brought out fuller-blooded playing. The appearance of the habanera rhythm offered a fascinating thread to follow: the strangely beguiling way it made Falla’s mournful melody in his “Homenaje” sound sensuous; the gently lilting underpinning it provided the volatile drama of Debussy’s “La puerta del vino”; and its haunting insinuations in Debussy’s “La soirée dans Grenade.”
Perianes concluded the recital by shifting fully into virtuoso mode, offering more brusquely extroverted though less colorful takes on Albéniz’s “El Albaicín” and Falla’s “El amor brujo” suite. His encore, though, brought things full circle — a trance-like reading of Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17, No. 4, that returned us to a world of cries and whispers.