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RECITAL REVIEW

Pianist Louis Lortie

HEAVENLY SCHUBERT AND DEMONIC CHOPIN

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, April 21, 2018

One of the anomalies in the long ago ďGolden EraĒ of romantic pianism (about 1905 to 1940) is that the virtuoso giants of the time didnít play Schubert. It took the German pianist Artur Schnabel to bring the beauties of Schuberís work to the publicís attention, and now they seem to be on almost every contemporary piano recital.

Louis Lortieís April 21 Weill Hall recital featured Schubertís 38-minute G Major Fantasy Sonata, D. 894, for the entire first half. Mr. Lortie gave the work a straightforward interpretation with a careful development of the long thematic lines. There were many small variations in dynamics in the opening molto moderato and in general a robust approach to phrasing and tempo. The playing had balance and, when needed, thrust. The andante was played lyrically and at time ďbouncyĒ with subtle adjustments in tempo, and the menuetto was played as a lively song, sunshine replacing the previous drama.

The long road to the finish underscored what musicians often say about the Schubert sonatas: itís a heavenly length, and itís not the musicís immediate impact but the journey that in the end counts. I thought it slightly risky to program the piece, which is exciting but difficult to sustain, but the audience of 350 was convinced and provided the artist with extended loud applause.

Four Chopin works occupied the second half, two Mazurkas and two extended but different dramatic compositions, both composed in 1841. Here the pianist was less successful in getting to the heart of Chopinís music as did he so well with the Schubert.

Each Mazurka, the F Minor (Op. 7, No. 3) and the Op. 59, No. 3 (F-Sharp Minor), was played in a big-boned style with little attention to internal phrase rubato and the little shifts in instrumental color. This isnít saying that the dance character of both wasnít displayed, but that the interpretations tended to be overly forceful and lacking in repose and charm. Polish dances do contain charm as well as Slavic effervescence.

The F Minor Fantasy performance was a program highlight, as Mr. Lortieís energetic mood captured the musicís demonic character, and he gave each modulation in the march-like passages individual and potent sound. Occasionally the Hallís acoustic shortcomings in fast legato passagework made the pianistís runs blurred, but his admirable octave technique never failed him. The chorale was played in a beautiful contrast, and the return of the main theme was carried with left-hand pedal point and a tiny pesky memory lapse. Overall it was a rushed and over-pedaled reading that was also everywhere dramatically convincing.

Ending the recital with a great Polonaise, in this case the F-Sharp Minor Op. 44, was a surprise programming choice and not an ordinary recital closer. It was played with firm rhythmic drive and had a majestic climax and lots of volume.

Returning to the stage Mr. Lortie continued the afternoonís fast virtuosity with two Chopin studies, the Op. 25 A Flat (ďAeolian HarpĒ) and the popular showoff C-Sharp Minor, Op. 10, No. 4. The first encore missed the elegance and craft of a slower tempo, and the latter demonstrated the artistís penchant, at lest at this recital, for finger agility and velocity in Chopinís marvelous music.