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Pianist Ang Li shows technical ability at American Art Museum, but lacks lyricism

Chinese pianist Ang Li offered a program of Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Enrique Granados and ”Last Dance,” a short work by Clark Ros. (Courtesy of Ang Li)

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Sunday concert series has been going for years, but still struggles to find a niche. Although the price is right (free), and the venue far more comfortable than the National Gallery (whose concerts are also free), attendance is often thin.

Chinese pianist Ang Li gave a staid program of Mozart, Debussy, Chopin, Enrique Granados and “Last Dance,” a short work by Clark Ross, for the contemporary offering. Li is an efficient, unfussy player, but short on lyricism. In Mozart’s Sonata K. 330, the combination of minimal pedaling, a dry hall and Li’s crisp touch added up to rather plodding Mozart, not enhanced by her rushing in fast passages. In a set of Debussy Preludes, she captured the languor of “Danseuses de Delphes” and some of the brilliance of “Feux d’artifice,” but “La cathedrale engloutie” lacked the grandeur of long lines.

Ross’s piece, a bitonal habanera that ends in a shiver of irritation, was intermittently engaging but went on too long. In a Chopin set, the rubato felt pre-planned to a fault. Mazurkas are still dances, and in the No. 45 in A Minor, there was so much “feeling” that the pulse was lost, meandering into incoherence. The Nocturne Op. 27, No. 2, suffered similarly. The concluding “Allegro di Concierto,” a virtuoso romp by Granados, was dispatched note-perfectly, but without exhilaration. Li is a formidable player, but her artistic profile is still undeveloped.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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