Paul Maillet packs recital with energy

December 07, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

It's always a pleasure to hear a recital as intelligently planne and beautifully played as the one that pianist Paul Maillet gave yesterday afternoon at the Second Presbyterian Church.

The young musician, one of the best of Leon Fleisher's many fine students in recent years, is clearly not a pianist who is satisfied with the tried and true. Along with such frequently played masterpieces as Mozart's D Major Sonata (K. 311) and Chopin's "Funeral March" Sonata were more provocative fare such as three of composer William Bolcom's wonderfully eclectic Twelve New Etudes (which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1988 and which rank among the best compositions for piano in the last 50 years, but which most pianists avoid) and Franz Liszt's rarely heard, almost unbelievably imaginative setting of the "Liebestod" from Wagner's "Tristan." All of this music was played with imagination that occasionally challenged -- but never violated -- the boundaries of good taste.

In the uncompromising force of its scherzo and the thunderous climax of its "March funebre," Maillet's Chopin sonata may have owed a debt to the famous Rachmaninov recording of the piece. If this is so, it was a case of fruitful influence. Maillet was unafraid to let his fingers follow the powerful surge of the music and there were many original -- even startling -- touches, not least a final movement in which the pianist held notes to create inner voices that suggested haunted shadows crying out with demonic intensity. The passionate temperament revealed in the Chopin also payed rich dividends in a performance of the voluptuous Liszt-Wagner work, in which the pianist was able to use his lovely sound to revel in the music's Messiaen-like range of sonority.

The Bolcom etudes were extraordinarily well-played: Maillet fearlessly explored the almost Dostoevskian intensity of the mad "Scene d'opera"; subtly revealed the contrasts of dynamics and tone in the bluesy "Nocturne"; and made the terrifyingly difficult hand jumps and stretches of "Rag Infernal" sound almost insouciantly easy. The pianist's reading of the Mozart sonata showed -- as did his performance of Beethoven's opus 110 sonata a few seasons back -- that he also has a talent for music of the classical period: it radiated exuberance and freedom. The only playing on the program that was less than first class came in the same composer's adagio in B Minor, in which the pianist concentrated over much on the work's formal balance and neglected its drama and intensity.

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