The latest pianist to perform in the Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series was Adam Neiman, in a sold-out recital on Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Now at the end of his third decade, Neiman has been impressing listeners since he was a teenage prodigy, and he has already played recitals in Washington as well as a concerto appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra. Neiman's pianism is as formidable as it ever was, combining ferocious technique with an intelligent grasp of formal structure. However, given how much time Neiman spent recapitulating the program notes in lengthy introductions to most of the pieces, the concert should have been billed as a lecture-recital.
Adam Neiman (b. 1978), pianist
(photo courtesy of adamneiman.com)
There was much to enjoy in Neiman's opening offering, a stylistically savvy reading of Bach's second English Suite (featured on Neiman's recent 2-CD recital recording). With his foot firmly off the sustaining pedal, Neiman rendered the opening prelude with the variegation of a Baroque orchestral concerto, shaping the lines expressively even at a rather rapid tempo. The Allemande featured elegant distinction of voicings, and the Sarabande was solemn but never droopy, with diverting embellishments on the repeats. A certain uniformity of touch did trouble some of the movements, a percussive style of playing that borders on harshness. One wished for more of the subtlety of someone like Angela Hewitt at times.
For sheer virtuosic exercise there were three Etudes-tableaux from Rachmaninoff's op. 39, drawn-out technical studies that could get the basic idea across in about one-third of the space. Slightly less technically impressive was Ravel's Jeux d'eau, which had some fine shimmering moments but ultimately came off a little prosaic (admittedly, having spent the morning listening to Martha Argerich's Ravel recordings did not help). Similar complaints could be made about the Ravel Sonatine that ended the first half, mostly in the first movement. Neiman certainly got all of the notes, but the melodies that ride on top of the piles of notes did not always sound as free and finely shaped as they could be. The dreamy second-movement Menuet (allowing Neiman to make a connection to the Bach that opened the recital) and the polished, animated third movement were a stronger conclusion.
Chopin Recital (DVD)
Live in Recital (CD)
Neiman's high-octane but slightly jabbing style served him well in a flashy reading of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. For example, the forceful and evocative take on the Gnomus concluded with no-holds-barred shrieks, only to be followed by an ethereal Promenade. The troubadour in front of his Il Vecchio Castello sounded like a student of the Winterreise hurdy-gurdy man. Still, Neiman tended too often toward unpleasant extremes, driving the tempo too fast for all of the children's taunts in Tuileries and plodding far too heavily in Bydlo. That reservation aside, Neiman handled the many technical demands with finesse and aplomb, from the welcome moment of lightness in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks to the stunning repeated notes of Limoges and the death-defying bombast of the opening of Baba-Yaga. A "very personal" encore followed, Neiman's own composition Vision, from 2004. Described as a "movement of the soul," it was based on a vision Neiman had, apparently a dream with a Howard Shore soundtrack.
Joe Banno, Adam Neiman (Washington Post, January 14)
The next recital in WPAS's Hayes Piano Series features the 20-something Yuja Wang at the Terrace Theater next Saturday (January 26, 2 pm). It could be billed as the battle of Juilliard (Neiman) against Curtis (Wang). Wang has certainly won in the programming department, with music by Ligeti, Bartók, and Scriabin (also Liszt and Ravel).