Relative unknown plumbs a fantasy-drenched work

April 18, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

When this listener says that pianist Boris Slutsky's playing of Schumann's "Kreisleriana" last night in Friedberg Hall was the best performance of the work he heard in the Baltimore-Washington area in the past four weeks, he does not bestow faint praise.

The other performances happened to be terrific and the pianists were named Murray Perahia and Andras Schiff.

The well-known Schiff and Perahia deserve the reward of fame; and so does the relatively unknown Slutsky, who studied with Anna Kantor in his native Moscow and with Alexander Eydelman and Nadia Reisenberg in New York.

"Kreisleriana" is among the most fantasy-drenched of Schumann's great piano works.

And while it may not compare in technical difficulty to the "Symphonic Etudes" or the "Toccata" -- though "Kreisleriana" is far from easy -- it is musically more difficult to put across.

Its logic is purely emotional and its narrative method is stream-of-consciousness. It is a work one must play from the inside out.

Slutsky, who has been teaching at Peabody Conservatory since 1993, held "Kreisleriana" together superbly, exploring its dark corners with intelligence, imagination and a sense of poetry that made this great, rambling work sound almost lucid and most affecting.

He played with the sort of rhythmic license needed for Schumann's music.

The seventh episode, which the composer marked "sehr rasch," was very swift indeed. But the pianist endowed every line in the composer's furious counterpoint with its own voice.

And in other, slower episodes -- but particularly the sixth -- Slutsky adopted heroically slow tempos that allowed previously unheard -- by this listener, at least -- details in the musical fabric to emerge without threatening to break the music's line.

Slutsky was, of course, comfortably at home with the program's all-Russian second half, which consisted of four preludes by Rachmaninov and Prokofiev's Sonata No. 7.

The pianist captured the poignant and gentle death knell of a piece such as the B Minor Prelude of Rachmaninov's Opus 32 as well as the stormy grandeur of the C Minor from Opus 23.

The pianist took an unusually broad approach -- most persuasively so -- to the Prokofiev Sonata, which is not performed nearly as often as it once was.

Slutsky played the concluding Precipato with a good deal of imagination, opting for mass rather than the customary velocity, and making the music sound more substantial in the process.

Slutsky opened his program with Haydn's G Major Sonata, which he performed with enough graciousness and wit to suggest that he may be as fine an interpreter of 18th-century music as he obviously is of works from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The superbly played encores were the Siloti transcription of Bach's B Minor Prelude and the Rachmaninov transcription of Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Flight of the Bumble Bee."

Pub Date: 4/18/97

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