Sunday, January 16, 2011


January 15

An intelligent player with poetic sensibility.

It can take years for a performing artist to find his voice, no matter how good his technical skills. Franceso Piemontisi offered a reminder of that last night with an engaging recital that was as much about promise as performance.

Piemontisi, 27, is all business when he comes onstage, pausing only for a quick bow before sitting down and launching immediately into the program. He hovers close over the keyboard when he plays, shoulders hunched like a journalist on deadline. And he has the most expressive body language of any pianist in recent memory, bouncing with the rhythm and leaning into the melody.

He opened with a Bach partita, working the pedals to give the piece a modern burnish, though with a soft touch. It was a straightforward warm-up for Beethoven’s Sonata in A major (Op. 101), played with more nuance and feeling, if a bit uptempo. In particular, the final movement galloped to a finish. Piemontisi seemed to find an expressive groove with Liszt’s Vallee d’Obermann from his Swiss cycle, varying moods and tempos to draw out the full array of emotions, from melancholy to joy. He also showed some impressive speed and dexterity.

Technically, all three selections were spot-on. And it was clear Piemontisi had put a lot of work into preparing them; none are in his standard repertoire. But they lacked a higher dimension – a commanding style, a distinctive voice, a fresh interpretation. The pianist has a fine poetic sense, but there were only flashes of it in the first half of the concert. Otherwise, the music was tightly controlled, without much breathing room for variations in phrasing or approach.

Schumann’s Kreisleriana in the second half was better, lightened by some lyrical moments that were absent earlier in the evening. Slowing down a bit, Piemontisi found atmospheric variations in each of the eight movements, yet maintained a stylistic consistency that gave piece an overall integrity and flow. He showed some dynamic range as well, sounding some contemplative notes in the slower movements, and exploding with dramatic bursts of energy in others.

The audience called Piemontisi out for three brief encores, so all this may be so much critical carping. Certainly there’s no denying his intelligence and skill. But he needs seasoning, which can only come with experience. When Piemontisi finds his voice and develops a unique creative vision, he will be a formidable talent indeed.

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