How much can an artist grow musically in five years? When pianist Louis Schwizgebel won first prize in the Young Concert Artists International Auditions, in 2007, he (then styling his last name Schwizgebel-Wang) was introduced to Washington listeners in a recital at the Kennedy Center. On Tuesday night, YCA brought Schwizgebel, currently pursuing advanced studies at Juilliard, back to the Terrace Theater.
Schwizgebel, now 24, still played with fiery technical assurance, and he was willing to sacrifice some flashy acrobatics to emphasize coloristic effects, instead. His best efforts came in two arch-romantic works, especially a dreamy performance of the “Vallee d’Obermann” episode from the first book of Liszt’s “Annees de Pelerinage,” played with an operatic sense of scenography, both misty-eyed and irascibly dramatic. Those cinematographic instincts served him well in three Liszt arrangements of Schubert songs, especially “Der Erlkoenig.”
With a similar approach in Ravel’s “Gaspard de la Nuit,” Schwizgebel created a murky waterscape in “Ondine” and fashioned a diabolically unpredictable “Scarbo.”
The other bell-themed pieces at the end of the program, Liszt’s “Les Cloches de Geneve” and the tour de force “La Campanella,” paled in comparison with the vast range of voicing and shading applied to the clanging funeral knell in Ravel’s “Le Gibet.”
While these works showed a greater maturity of musicianship, Schwizgebel returned to the same Mozart sonata, K. 311, he had played in 2007, and not much had changed. The Mozart felt doubly superfluous because its intended function had already been filled by three Domenico Scarlatti sonatas with which he opened the program. Schwizgebel has mastered the light touch these works need, but for all the brilliant figuration, he could not find the poetry in them. The good news is that he did find it in a lyrical encore, Liszt’s Consolation No. 3 in D-flat.
Downey is a freelance writer.