At 26, pianist Lukas Vondracek is perhaps a little old to be “showing potential,” but this talented artist will almost certainly sound different (and better) in 10 years or so. A child of two professional pianists who has been performing in public since he was a toddler, Vondracek is still studying at the New England Conservatory. His recital last Sunday afternoon, presented by the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater, revealed a professional — but one who needs to shed quiddities that detract from the musical message.
Vondracek is completely in command of himself and his materials; his technique is very efficient and he draws bold colors from the instrument with no wasted motions or histrionics. His biting articulation of thirds and his very wide dynamic range bespeak fingers of surpassing skill. The problem, which Vondracek has in common with so many other young artists, is in his need to underline and over-phrase.
Haydn’s Sonata in C (Hob XVI: 50) was marred by too many precious hesitations; Haydn’s surprises make their point even more strongly when the pulse is steady. Vondracek’s phrasing almost gasped at times. In Mendelssohn’s “Variations serieuses,” Op. 51, Vondracek’s tic of telegraphing harmonic twists with little pauses again got old fast, but in the later variations his virtuosity surged forward.
There was perfect simpatico in the late-romantic swoonings of Josef Suk’s “Love Song,” Op. 7, where all the freedom is written in. In Brahms’s Six Pieces for Piano, Op. 118, things were in better proportion as well; the wide, expressive palette fitted the music without distorting it. Vondracek really made a meal of the Ballade in G minor, but it was a Brahmsian meal.
In Prokofiev’s Sonata, No. 7 in B-flat, Op. 83, the Andante caloroso sang almost innocently. But in the hell-for-leather finale, Vondracek’s attempts to “shape” the obsessive three-note left-hand motif sapped energy from the performance, though as a whole it was pianistically brilliant. The Rachmaninoff Etudes-tableaux offered as an encore were a perfect selection, playing to the artist’s strengths without barnstorming. This is someone to watch.
Battey is a freelance writer.