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Martin Kasík at Czech Embassy

Martin Kasík had his Washington debut in 2000, garnering a fine review for his Young Concert Artists-sponsored recital at the Kennedy Center, the same year he also played at 92nd Street Y in New York. The Czech pianist came back for a recital at the Strathmore Mansion in 2006, which I am sorry to have missed, based on the beauty of his playing on Wednesday night at the Embassy of the Czech Republic, presented by the Embassy Series. In the intervening years, Kasík has become an exceptional musician and, judging by this video, a talented teacher, even though I do not understand a word of Czech.

Kasík has a fine command of touch at the keyboard, a skill evident even with the somewhat over-bright Petrof piano in the active acoustic of the embassy's main hall. In Beethoven's sonata "Quasi una fantasia" (op. 27/2), Kasík's sharp ears calibrated the sound appropriately, keeping the staccato attacks in the second movement on the light side and using the soft pedal liberally. Likewise, the hammered sforzandi of the rumbling last movement did not overpower the room, the slightly controlled tempo allowing Kasík to show off exceptionally clean finger-work. The opening movement, often given the nickname "Moonlight," is so famous that one almost needs to do something strange with it, a distinction Kasík did not give it. Another Beethoven sonata, op. 81a ("Les Adieux"), was not as suited to the piano's timbre, focused as the piece often is on percussive sounds in the high register, which brought several of the Petrof's weaknesses. Parts of the middle movement were quite affecting, especially the transition into the confidently played finale, with admirably fluttering playing by both of Kasík's hands.

The high point of the evening was a Ravel set, beginning with Kasík coaxing the best possible range of soft sound from the piano for the Pavane pour une infante défunte, with enough regularity of pulse to keep the identity of the dance. A performance of the Sonatine was equally fine, with lovely whirring textures in the first movement and a fluid sense of rubato. The careful touch in the wistful second movement even put the piano's high register in the best light, glassy and gossamer, and the third movement was clear and delineated. Prokofiev's "Harp" prelude (op. 12/7) was a little too sharp-edged at times, although Kasík's glissandi were glittery and fun, and the same composer's concise third sonata made for a tempestuous conclusion, alternately graceful and savage. Saying that he regretted not playing any music from his home country, Kasík offered a charming encore of Antonín Dvořák's seventh humoresque.

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