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Phillippe Entremont returns to National Gallery of Art 61 years after U.S. debut

Pianist Philippe Entremont made his U.S. debut 61 years ago at the National Gallery of Art, and in a recital there on Sunday evening, he demonstrated that his playing continues to gain complexity and depth.

The challenge performers face in the gallery is battling the West Garden Court’s unforgiving acoustics, which mashes sounds into a blur. But Entremont conquered his setting with a gripping, suspenseful performance of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57. Under his fingers, the “Appassionata” unfurled to reveal a canvas of intriguing textures that conjured up shadows, icicles, echoing bells and mystical butterflies.

Entremont tackled all four of Frederic Chopin’s ballades in a single sitting in his second half, proving he can still tame the technical passages of Ballade No. 2 in F Major, Op. 38, as well as ripple through the impassioned Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23. But it was in the final two works — the carefree lilting melodies of Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47, and the moving nostalgia of Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52 — where the pianist displayed a profound well of emotions. In the fourth ballade, in particular, there was a hint of sadness with bittersweet overtones that permeated the performance.

A brightly hued and sweetly voiced rendition of Mozart’s Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331, kicked off the program.

Philippe Entremont. (Handout/Pascale L.R.)

Jean is a freelance writer.

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