For her Wednesday night recital at the Washington International Piano Festival, Tanya Gabrielian sat down at an imposing German Bluethner concert grand. A little more than 30 listeners gathered in Catholic University’s midsize Ward Concert Hall. The program promised a mix of works by Liszt, Beethoven, Demian or Cardelus, Ravel and Rachmaninov.
Gabrielian opened with Liszt’s stormy transcription of a sarabande and chaconne from Handel’s opera “Almira.” She launched into a lavishly ornamented set of variations loaded with tortuous swaths of hand-crossing, bundles of tremolos and octave scales calling for Paganini-like virtuosity at NASCAR speed. Clearly, Gabrielian had all the technical equipment needed, which she met with a strikingly poised nobility.
The program next listed Beethoven’s profoundly enigmatic Sonata, Op. 111. Yet, as the pianist rolled out reams of often-Chopinesque melodies underlaid with thick blobs of harmonic density, one wondered who had written them. Beethoven? No way. We learned it was an Alexei Stanchinsky mazurka.
The third selection (listed last on the program), Gabrielian announced, was really Rachmaninoff’s Etudes-Tableaux, Op. 33, Nos. 2, 3, 7, 8 and 9, rather than perhaps Philippe Demian (listed on the program). Once again, the Herculean keyboard demands were met with a commanding presence.
By now, one yearned for something else, say Mendelssohn or Bach, two composers who offer equal keyboard challenges but a different kind of artistry.
The pianist turned to a few brief moments of sweet improv-sounding platitudes by a composer named “John,” a friend of Gabrielian’s in the audience. Yet, his piece was missing from the printed program.
Then, at last, she performed the stormy Beethoven that had been listed second on the program.
The festival runs through Saturday afternoon.
Porter is a freelance writer.