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RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Anton Nel

THE COMPLETE PACKAGE

by Terry McNeill
Friday, December 7, 2012

Listening to Anton Nel’s piano playing is similar to meeting a charming avuncular relative for a good meal – always much to savor. The Austin-based artist played a balanced and instructive recital Dec. 7 in SRJC’s Newman Auditorium as part of the College’s chamber music series.

Nel opened with a consummately played rendition of Bach’s seven-movement D Major Partita, BWV 828. In the Allemande, he lavished chaste tone and selected a slow tempo, playing off the dissonances. The Courante was an object lesson of clear contrapuntal lines, and the repose of the Sarabande was underscored as the pianist played the left-hand crossover arabesques impeccably. The last notes were breathlessly held. The Gigue and Fugue was again perfectly gauged, not too fast, and the ornaments were deftly performed.

Nel’s pianistic control moved easily into Debussy’s Estampes, but here he added color and a bit of mystery in the opening “Pagodes.” “La Soireé dans Grénade” was a sultry and complicated dance under the artist’s fingers, and he half pedaled sections of “Gardens in the Rain” with a broad dynamic range.

Closing the first half was the “Allegro Concierto” of Granados, a bravura work from 1904. Here the palette became brighter and the improvisatory character seemed sun-drenched. It was the most exciting playing of the evening.

Two cornerstone works comprised the second half, Chopin’s F Sharp Barcarolle, Op. 60, and Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53. Mr. Nel stressed the Italianate character of Chopin’s themes, and the rhythmic undulations suggested Grand Canal gondoliers. He let lots of air into the piece and never hurried. A lovely performance.

The Waldstein Sonata received a masterful interpretation. Clean scale playing is a prerequisite, and Nel provided bright and tidy runs throughout all three movements. He eschewed inner voices and some of the opening Allegro’s humor in favor of a thoughtful conception with subtle ritards. The sonorous short Adagio was played throughout with full shift pedal, generating haunting warmth.

Mr. Nel adopted a dreamy approach to the final movement’s beginning, his damper pedal technique precise and the long trills in both hands always even. He never was in a hurry and was content to let the passion of the writing emerge from his terrific pianism. The written glissando octaves were played as single notes.

A standing ovation produced a glowing performance of the Liszt transcription of Schumann’s “Widmung,” Op. 25. The encore was a fitting end to a complete package of high-level pianism by a commanding artist.