After recital's tepid start, Pasternack warms to piano

November 05, 1998|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

In my years as a university teacher I can't remember anything more intimidating than the occasions upon which I delivered scholarly papers before audiences of my colleagues and students. I suspect that giving a piano recital in similar circumstances must be immeasurably more difficult.

That is almost certainly the reason that pianist Benjamin Pasternack, who joined the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory last year, took a while to warm up to his difficult program in Friedberg Hall last night. That had been accomplished by the time the pianist had reached the final work on his program's first half.

Aaron Copland's "Variations" (1930) is the first and most difficult of the composer's three major works for piano. It is difficult not only because of the demands it makes upon the pianist, but also because it lacks the softer tonal outlines of the Piano Sonata (1941) and the greater expressive range of the "Fantasy" (1955-1957).

But Pasternack performed this angular work with mastery, making each of the skeletal variations unfold with logic and sculptured precision. The "Variations" occupies a rarified emotional universe, but the pianist knew how to make them evocative and gripping.

After intermission came works by Chopin and Liszt. The pianist's manner in Chopin's mazurkas in C Major and B-flat Minor (opus 24, Nos. 2 and 4) may have been slightly tight, but he played them with taste, understanding and control. The lyrical B-flat Minor piece, particularly, evinced a singing line and considerable flow. The performance of the Barcarolle that followed was expert, sensible, and powerful without being crude.

In addition to being powerful without being crude, Liszt's "Funerailles" was also beautifully organized. The sparkling textures of the same composer's "Au Bord d'une source" were slightly muddied. But the concert came to an effective conclusion with the pianist's energetic and witty performance of Liszt's transcription of the Waltzes from Gounod's "Faust."

Earlier in the program, Pasternack was less persuasive. The sadness in Mozart's A Minor was made to sound matter-of-fact and sober instead of despairing. Beethoven's Sonata in A Major (opus 101) was somewhat labored and pedantic. It was delivered with all the clarity of an X-ray photograph -- and, unfortunately, with just as little whimsy and fantasy.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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