In performance: Vladimir Feltsman
Feltsman offers pianistic "Pictures"
by Joe Banno
Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," with its mix of descriptive tone-painting and virtuosic hurdles, is a good litmus test for a pianist's interpretive priorities. If Vladimir Feltsman dug deep into the piece to find all the color and texture he could at his Washington Performing Arts Society-sponsored recital Friday at Strathmore Hall, his probing seemed more out of a desire to illuminate the innovation and atmosphere of the score than to paint specific musical pictures.
(read more after the jump)
The composer imagined a series of aurally evoked paintings, with a "Promenade" theme weaving between the "pictures" to suggest the museum-goer walking among them. In purely pictorial terms, Feltsman's lickety-split speeds in the "Promenade" movements suggested track-suited art lovers sprinting breathlessly through the galleries. But musically, they formed a fascinating theme-and-variations study in instrumental color.
Likewise, "The Old Castle" morphed into a seductive danse macabre, the conversation between the "Two Polish Jews" was clearly about contrasting dynamics and rapid-fire articulation, and the lumbering oxen of "Bydlo" stopped midway through their progress to philosophize.
If Feltsman's "Pictures" was more of a pianistic than painterly exhibition, it was unfailingly perceptive and masterfully played. So, too, was his alternately craggy and tender performance of Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata, and his elegantly turned reading of Haydn's rarely heard, strikingly proto-Beethovenian Sonata in E-flat, Hob XVI: 49. Like other Haydn-championing virtuosos, Feltsman made us wonder why this composer's marvelous keyboard works aren't the fixtures of the recital stage they should be.
-- Joe Banno
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