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WPAS Presents Kathryn Stott

Saturday afternoon, the Washington Performing Arts Society presented English pianist Kathryn Stott at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Widely known for her long pianistic collaboration with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who was honored the following day at the Kennedy Center Honors, Stott has a wide-ranging career as a soloist, chamber musician, and arts manager. Beyond one's initial reaction to her use of scores in a program she is repeating half-a-dozen times this season, her program began auspiciously with Fauré's Nocturne No. 4 in E-flat, op. 36, which opens gently and poetically builds up and then down.

The bulk of Stott's program was French -- she was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger and appointed Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres -- and Ravel's three-movement Sonatine was beautifully voiced, colorfully graphic, and Romantically flexible in tempo. The "Mouvement de menuet" was taken at a uniquely broad tempo that allowed for heightened expressivity, while the "Animé" sparkled, with the exception of the moments when in seeking ultimate tone, harshness was found. Her modest use of the damper pedal enhanced overall clarity throughout the program, reminding one of Walter Gieseking's playing. The program included two more nocturnes: Debussy's in D-flat, and also Fauré's in D-flat (no. 6, op. 63) that began to feel contrary to a bright winter's afternoon in Washington. However, it was worth waiting for Franck's hauntingly mysterious Prelude, Chorale, and Fugue.

Franck has the imagination and chops of Liszt, yet more coherent harmony in this work. Stott, with arpeggiating arms flowing about, savored each of Franck's phrases to its fullest length. The Fugue's serious subject has a descending chromatic sighing subject similar to Bach's "Crucifixus" from the B Minor Mass and Cantata No. 12, which Liszt also uses in his "Variations on "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen." Franck majestically works the chorale tune into his fugue, and one hears bell-like clusters at its conclusion. Unfortunately, Stott and the Steinway were not quite getting along at a few more moments of peak intensity; the outcome of her resorting to hitting the keys was a harsh reduction in resonance.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, British pianist Kathryn Stott returns to Kennedy Center (Washington Post, December 4)
Stott brought the audience out of the "French cocoon" in the second half of the program, remarking on having heard Arthur Rubinstein perform and always program works by Latin American composers Alberto Ginastera and Geitor Villa-Lobos. Stott was at her best navigating through the angular, gurgling intensity of Ginastera's Sonata No. 1, regardless of split notes. Villa-Lobos' Valsa da Dor or Waltz of Sorrow sounded reminiscent of the earlier turn of the 20th-century nocturnes from earlier in the program, yet a few generations newer. Stott characterized Graham Fitkin's Relent, commissioned by the artist in 1998 as a concert finale, by stating, "It is relentless." Its dark industrial hues were further polluted by left-hand rumbling in the lower register. There was an intentional linear wall-paper of urban hustle and bustle, without a context of harmonic dimensional images. Stott's page turner looked especially nervous during this virtuosic tour-de-force of thousands of notes, making one wish she was playing at least this one by heart: the artist and instrument alone, with music rack removed. Due to programming and execution, Garrick Ohlsson's recent WPAS program was more memorable.

The WPAS piano recital series continues next month with concerts by Orion Weiss (January 7) and Simone Dinnerstein (January 29).

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