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Inon Barnatan in WPAS Solo Debut

available at Amazon
Darkeness Visible I. Barnatan

(released on April 10, 2012)
Avie AV2256 | 69'27"
Pianist Inon Barnatan gave his well-deserved Kennedy Center Terrace Theater solo debut Saturday afternoon, under the auspices of the Washington Performing Arts Society's Hayes Piano Series. Now in his early thirties, Barnatan is transitioning from first-call collaborative piano partner -- read: accompanist -- to first-call piano soloist. The first half of the program featured works based on poems, often contrasting light and dark. Barnatan prefers a wet sound with lots of pedal, and he is a master at building and maintaining resonance in his instrument. While this worked beautifully in the Prelude and rather dark-night-of-the-soul Clair de Lune from Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, a bit of dryness in the Menuet movement, akin to Walter Gieseking, would have been welcome.

The action onstage was not at the keyboard with the performer hitting notes, but from wide sound emanating from the length of the instrument. Barnatan's effortless technique was at the forefront of Ronald Stevenson's picturesque, then tragic Peter Grimes Fantasy. In this brief work, Stevenson has the performer rise over the instrument while holding the resonance of a chord with the damper pedal and hauntingly pluck a few strings by hand as if the instrument were a giant harp. After last month's Cage Festival, it was nice to see extended techniques used in such a magically musical way. Barnatan's lengthy verbal comments from the bench assisted the audience in comprehending the story of Aloysius Bertrand's poems, which inspired Ravel's Gaspard de la nuit. This explanation gave the listener the tools to decide for himself when the seductive water sprite gives an outpouring of laughter, or to imagine how the face of the bizarre goblin might look, walk, or even take flight.

Other Reviews:

Charles T. Downey, Pianist Inon Barnatan’s intelligence, musicality impress at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, October 15)

James McQuillen, Inon Barnatan distinguishes himself with delicate, powerful playing (The Oregonian, October 10, 2011)
The second half of the program comprised a deconstructed Dowland song -- Darknesse Visible by Ionarts favorite Thomas Adès -- and Schubert's monumental Sonata in A, D. 959. Barnatan is a fantastic Schubert interpreter who has even performed the Fantasy in C with violinist Liza Ferschtman from memory. The oldest and longest work on the program, the Schubert, was saved for last, and the key of A just might be the loveliest key imaginable for such long, lovely thoughts. The drawbacks of this performance were a number of split notes in the first movement, an over-the-top "mad" scene in the second movement that included some unwanted banging, an underwhelming tempo in the third movement (Scherzo: Allegro Vivace), and an overwhelming tempo in the final movement (Rondo: Allegretto). Barnatan seemed to portray the final movement's theme as folk-like, with a brisk tempo and bouncy repeated notes that detracted from its supreme elegance. Schubert's serene Impromptu in G-flat served as an encore to this thoughtful program by a most sincere artist.

The next major piano event in the WPAS classical series will feature András Schiff performing the second book of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier (October 30, 8 pm), at Strathmore.

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