Adam Laloum is nothing if not ambitious. For his solo recital Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection, the young French pianist programmed two of the towering masterworks of the Romantic repertory by Schumann and Schubert. Ever dauntless, Laloum offered emotionally resonant and highly personal interpretations that revealed a febrile imagination at work.
A sense of fantasy and feverish emotion ran through Laloum’s rhapsodic account of Schumann’s “Symphonic Etudes,” which opened the recital. The performance was not without flaws. A basic rhythmic insecurity, beyond the usual rubato, gave many of the etudes a nervous, unsettled quality. Schumann’s thick textures and complex voicing also revealed a certain brusqueness and inelegance of touch, as well as some finger slips. Yet if Laloum’s pianism was occasionally effortful, and even wayward, his interpretation was unusually alive to the moonlit poetry and tempestuous drama of Schumann’s mercurial moods. It was a tense, agitated and volatile reading.
After intermission, Laloum turned to Schubert’s great Sonata in B-flat, D. 960. It was a deeply felt performance of disquieting beauty. In Laloum’s hands, the monumental opening movement emerged plaintive, introspective and tenderly lyrical. Then came the austere beauty of Schubert’s slow movement, which lay at the heart of Laloum’s reading. The main theme, slowed almost to the breaking point, was icy, remote and desolate. Yet the heartbreak came in the contrasting section in A, with its sense of quiet dignity and perseverance in the face of unspeakable pain. The emotions were all the more overwhelming for being so understated.
Laloum accentuated the shadows of Schubert’s playful, energetic Scherzo and then concluded the sonata with a bracing account of the finale, which brought out its vast extremes in color, dynamics and expression. It was a dramatic end to a concert bristling with insight.
Chin is a freelance writer.