Pianist Tanya Bannister has formidable technique and a thoughtful approach to programming a recital. Trained in London, at Yale and in New York, her fingers rarely erred in a recital inspired by the influence of Handel on Beethoven, heard at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon. What did not always come through was a love of sound, a willingness to explore a broad range of tones and colors, as her touch at the keyboard was too consistently sharp and biting.
This harshness was in evidence in Bannister’s overemphasis of the melodic line in Handel’s Suite in F, HWV 427, balanced by some rather fun embellishments on repeats. The piece concludes with a fugue, which made it a fine complement to the centerpiece of the program, Beethoven’s penultimate piano sonata, No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110. Once again, Bannister’s technique was solid, but voicing and dynamics lacked subtlety, most evident in the recitative and lament sections of the third movement, where the soft effects using the una corda pedal were pedestrian. Bannister also pushed the tempo of the second movement so fast that the scherzo felt more vengeful than playful, making the hand crossings in the trio a little awkward.
Op. 110 was introduced by two new compositions inspired by it, beginning with Sidney Corbett’s “Yorick’s Skull,” which drew on the more dissonant structures in Beethoven’s sonata, extending them, repeating them and hammering on them, a style that played to Bannister’s sharp-fingered strength. More promising was Harold Meltzer’s “Iconography,” which mused on some of the qualities of the sonata’s first two movements. The first movement recalled the Handel suite, too, with its many trills and upward flourishes, while the second movement, recalling Beethoven’s scherzo, was diverting in its metrical shifts and sudden accents.
Downey is a freelance writer.