A concert pianist must meet high technical standards, but he will gain an audience only if he has even rarer gifts — touch, intelligence and the ability to surprise.
Joshua Wright, a prize winner at this year’s Washington International Piano Competition, demonstrated those qualities in a recital Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater presented by the Friday Morning Music Club. The pianist also can be a showman, evident in his performance this year on the television show “America’s Got Talent,” which involved paint and smoke pouring out of a white grand piano.
Wright’s touch was strongest in the remarkable fluidity of his right hand, gossamer light in “La Campanella,” the third of Liszt’s Grandes Études de Paganini, and Chopin’s “Black Key” Étude, Op. 10, No. 5. A similar delicacy helped create the moonlit layering of voices in the slow movement of Schumann’s Sonata No. 2, Op. 22, and the will-o’-the-wisp scherzo of Chopin’s Sonata No. 3, Op. 58. The unusual choice of two movements from Henri Dutilleux’s “Au gré des ondes” provided the surprise, an early work that the composer himself repudiated as juvenilia — tuneful and pleasing but certainly derivative.
Intelligence came through, too, in the careful unraveling of contrapuntal lines in the Schumann sonata, especially in its volatile third movement, and in the melodic phrasing that Wright managed to bring out amid the thickets of notes in Liszt’s Paganini étude in A minor.
There were minor disappointments, such as the slightly precious rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne in C minor, Op. 48, No. 1, and an over-fast Finale to the Chopin sonata that felt a bit empty-headed. Overall, though, this was an admirable tribute to Thomas Mastroianni, the former director of the Friday Morning Music Club who died last month. An encore of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow,” in the profusely chromatic arrangement by George Shearing, was a tasteful nod to Wright’s pop proclivities.
Downey is a freelance writer.