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6.6.04

Mr. Smith Plays in Washington

Edward MacDowell's Sonata no. 3 ("Norse"), from 1899, opened a program with pianist Joseph Smith at the National Gallery of Art, on May 23, that was held in honor of the exhibition American Masters from Bingham to Eakins: The John Wilmerding Collection. A collection of eight American composers with works spanning the first 60 years of the 20th century (1899–1960) paralleled the collection in roughly the time span it covers, though the music is a good deal younger than are the paintings.

The 105-year-young MacDowell sonata, meanwhile, has aged very well. To be played in three movements—Impressively; at times with impetuous vigor, Mournfully, yet with great tenderness, and With much character and fire—it is just one of many examples of MacDowell's outstanding writing for the piano. I suppose that the emotions could have been brought out more vividly than Mr. Smith did, and his pedaling could have been more judicious, given that the acoustics of the West Garden Court already provide a perpetual "pedal down," but that grumbling aside, the piece was remarkably well played. More impeccable than enthusiastic perhaps, but enjoyably throughout.

Joseph Smith, whom my favorite newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, called a “richly sensitive interpreter,” also wrote the remarks on the music of that evening upon which Stephen Ackert based his program notes. This is not terribly surprising since Joseph Smith writes regularly for publications such as Piano Today and Piano (UK).

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