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Jean-Frédéric Neuburger at La Maison Française

French pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger failed to transmit the full musical potential of all works on Tuesday’s program at La Maison Française. Performing with a powerful, flawless technique, Neuburger relentlessly sacrificed musical sensitivity for speed. The high point of the program was Ravel’s La Valse, which the 20-year-old Neuburger performed with incredible color, contrast, and ease. Strong chords were balanced with pearly runs and small notes, while harmonic changes of color were crafted with perfect smoothness and control.

Bach’s English Suite No. 2, in A minor, suffered from excessive speed, over-pedaling, and a lack of clear beat. Most movements were unconversational and very much a blur. Chopin’s Ballade No. 3 2 began quite loudly (the repeated C's) with only the top notes of the texture being voiced. The connection of tempo between the quiet, lilting sections and complex figuration was entirely lost; Neuburger leaped drastically ahead in loud parts. The lack of balanced proportion resulted in musical confusion, making this magnificent work, too, a blur.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, From French Pianist Neuburger, Spectacular Fingerwork (Washington Post, October 4)
Liszt’s Sonata in B Minor contained nice moments and yet had a weak sense of overall structure. The opening slow, descending minor scales (over-pedaled) were at a different tempo than the first very short notes. The ground, base tempo for the entire sonata – that may edge faster or slower at points – was missing. Additionally, Neuburger played right through the huge climactic modulation, as if it were not an event. Please invite Neuburger back for an evening of French music.

Since the concert was presented in cooperation with the Embassy Series, the audience was subjected to lots of talk before each half of the performance. Cultual Attaché Roland Celette gave a brief welcome, followed by a long welcome by Embassy Series director Jerome Barry, followed by a longer pitch for donations from a Series board member that included a poem often mentioning God. The concert, scheduled to begin at 7:30, did not begin until 8. After intermission, Jerome Barry again got behind the microphone. One of the reasons audiences attend concerts is to step away from their daily lives, which often involve listening to people talk for long periods of time. Perhaps the Embassy Series should consider eliminating verbal publicity from their concerts.

The next concert in the Embassy Series will feature Romanian pianist Andrei Licareţ at the residence of the Romanian ambassador (October 10, 7:30 pm). The next classical concert at La Maison Française will feature Klavier Trio Amsterdam (October 29, 7:30 pm).

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