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La Plus Que Douce

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

French pianist Adam Laloum came onto my radar when he won the Clara Haskil Competition in 2009. His Washington debut came on Friday night at the French Embassy, in a concert that paired Schumann's Études Symphoniques with Schubert's magisterial sonata in B-flat major, D. 960.

Laloum plays with subtle finesse, concerned with minute details of musical phrasing, making for many delicate moments in the dreamy central movements of the Schumann and the first two movements of the Schubert. Not too long into the program, however, with Laloum exploring fine gradations between pp and ppp, the style of interpretation began to cloy. To be fair, these are exactly the dynamic markings that Schubert returns to again and again in the score of this sonata, but something about Laloum's observance of those directions turned a little precious.

available at Amazon
Schumann, Grande Humoresque / Sonata No. 1, A. Laloum
(Mirare, 2013)
Part of this can be chalked up to some technical shortfalls noted before in streamed concerts by Laloum. The outer parts of the Schumann are thrilling, making the best performances -- recent ones include live performances by the likes of Alexander Melnikov and Yuja Wang -- those that push the virtuosic envelope as far as possible. Here there were a few little slips, some stickiness in the octaves that hampered some of the louder sections, and limitations in the left hand that left many interesting voicings mute on the page. Many of the same shortcomings came out in the Schubert, last heard so memorably in a live performance by Marc-André Hamelin, which was almost soporific in the first two movements, with nothing menacing about the rumbling low trills, understatement piled on understatement. Some of the best playing came in the last two movements, a quicksilver scherzo and lively rondo, capped by a daring Presto.

Laloum played this program again on Sunday at the Phillips Collection. See Simon Chin, Laloum packs emotion into Romantic masterworks (Washington Post, October 28)

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