Thibaudet recital a fantasy of sound

July 25, 1996|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

COLLEGE PARK -- In his excellent piano recital Tuesday night in Tawes Theatre, one did not have to know that Jean-Yves Thibaudet was an opera lover to guess the truth. One could tell it from the imagination and obvious affection with which he performed three of Liszt's operatic transcriptions and fantasies, which concluded the all-Liszt second half of his concert.

The young French pianist played "O Du Mein Holder Abendstern" from Wagner's "Tannhauser" with beauty and simplicity that not only honored the fact that this was a transcription, rather than a full-blown fantasy, but also managed to suggest the human voice. In the transcription of the same composer's "Liebestod" from "Tristan," Thibaudet turned up the thermostat, playing with drama and passion, and drawing from the keyboard a sensuous, Messiaen-like range of sonority that made the 20th century's debt to Liszt unusually clear.

The most spectacular playing came in the most spectacular work, the "Rigoletto" paraphrase. There was enormous virtuosity the way Liszt developed, varied, contrasted and combined Verdi's themes, and almost equal virtuosity in the way Thibaudet performed it, taking the thunderous conclusion with what seemed twice the usual velocity and volume.

The second half of the concert also included Liszt's heroic Ballade in B Minor, which played to Thibaudet's strengths, and "Les Jeux d'Eau a la Villa d'Este," which did not. Liszt's "Jeux d'Eaux" is an exercise in tone colors that looks forward to the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel and must suggest, at its conclusion, a sense of ecstatic rapture. Thibaudet has virtuosity to burn, but in this performance he burned it too quickly, allowing the piece to run away from him, painting its colors with insufficient care and missing its dizzying spiritual heights.

Had Liszt come first on the recital, one would have expected from "Jeux d'Eau" that Thibaudet might have problems with the Debussy works that opened the evening. The beautiful playing in the composer's Twelve Preludes (Book II) was not sufficient to compensate for enough atmosphere to conjure up the sensuousness of such pieces as "Ondine." Thibaudet was better suited for the fierce gymnastics of "Feux d'Artifice." But such pianistic brilliance sunk "L'Isle Joyeuse," which followed the preludes, in a performance that could have used more color and was much too fast to build to the work's famously orgasmic conclusion.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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