Pratt's exceptional ear becomes evident during recital

MUSIC REVIEW

January 10, 1994|By Kenneth Meltzer | Kenneth Meltzer,Contributing Writer

Pianist Awadagin Pratt's Saturday "Candlelight Concert" recital at Howard Community College did not enjoy the most auspicious of beginnings. An already seated capacity audience and Mr. Pratt anxiously waited for more than 15 minutes while seats were added for standby patrons.

This seemed to unnerve Mr. Pratt, who briefly walked onto the stage before his cue and then quickly exited.

When the lights finally dimmed and Mr. Pratt entered dressed in a striped short-sleeved polo shirt and slacks, the apparently confused audience momentarily withheld its applause.

Fortunately, once Mr. Pratt began to play, matters greatly improved.

Despite Mr. Pratt's attire, his approach to music is anything but ,, casual.

The program -- two of Beethoven's last three piano sonatas, and transcriptions by Ferrucio Busoni and Franz Liszt of compositions by Bach -- focused on introspective music that for the most part eschews pyrotechnics.

The fact that Mr. Pratt brought the audience to its feet with such a program is a testament to his impressive musicianship.

The performance of the opening work, Beethoven's Sonata No. 30, Op. 109, was perhaps the least impressive of the evening. The delay before the concert may have contributed to more than a few missed notes, particularly in the agitated sections of the piece.

Still, Mr. Pratt's exceptional ear for balancing of voices and gorgeous lyrical playing were evident from the start. The pianist also convincingly handled Beethoven's frequent changes of mood and texture.

His rendition of Beethoven's Sonata No. 31, Op. 110 exhibited all of the previously mentioned strengths and, happily, fewer errors.

The second half of the evening was almost uniformly impressive, demonstrating why the Peabody-trained artist electrified the 1992 Naumburg Competition. Mr. Pratt performed Busoni's arrangements of Bach's chorale preludes "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" and "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland" with a hushed intensity that was deeply affecting. His Glenn Gould-like vocalise did nothing to dispel the beauty of the moment.

The concert reached its apex with the final two pieces -- Liszt's Variations on Bach's "Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen" and the Busoni arrangement of the Chaconne for solo violin.

Here, sensitivity and impressive technical display coalesced for performances that were both electrifying and deeply satisfactory from a musical point of view.

Awadagin Pratt's Baltimore appearances continue this Friday with the Baltimore Symphony and performances of the Grieg Piano Concerto.

Hopefully, management will arrange for everyone to be seated on time to enjoy a young talent who is already providing some music-making of great distinction.

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