Suit the action to the word
Speaking of professionalism, the pianist Murray Perahia provided only about three weeks’ notice that he would not be honoring the engagements of his autumn tour, which would have brought him to the Lensic on Oct. 25. A hand injury was reportedly to blame, presumably preventing him from practicing enough to bring his program to the level he wanted. One was sympathetic, of course, when Perahia first pleaded an untreated thumb infection in 1990, but the excuses have become less easy to overlook as they have resurfaced time and again in the ensuing two decades. The sad fact is that Perahia, once a Prince of Pianistic Poise, has evolved into a King of Concert Cancellation. It is one thing to heed the limitations of one’s body but quite another to leave impresarios repeatedly stranded. What ensues is perforce a mad scramble as concert presenters try to find viable substitutes who happen to find themselves reasonably nearby and with an evening unbooked.
The Santa Fe Concert Association came up with an interesting, if risky, solution: the pianist Christopher Taylor, who has developed a following as a deeply intellectual pianist though one without much celebrity. I first became acquainted with Taylor’s work in 1993, when he won the bronze medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Many of us in the press room that year found the judging generally loopy, but Taylor seemed to earn his spot by audaciously programming repertoire that nobody in his right mind plays at competitions, including Bach’s Goldberg Variations and Boulez’s Second Piano Sonata.
His recital at the Lensic was sporadically interesting, if more for the works he programmed than for his interpretations of them. In fact, it can scarcely be said that he “interpreted” Schumann’s Waldszenen at all, instead offering literal readings of these nine “Forest Scenes,” which here resembled neither story-telling nor soulful revelation. He worked within a narrow range of dynamics and color; at the least, Schumann’s familiar set would seem to invite a broader tonal palette. Beethoven’s C-Minor Variations (WoO 80) were technically erratic, marked by fuzzy attacks, muffed scales, and rhythmic hesitations in what must unroll as a propulsive piece. Taylor, who is an uneasy public speaker, spoke at some length about how wonderful the various pieces were, and I don’t doubt that he has thought deeply about them; but conveying one’s appreciation to an audience through the actual performance brings certain responsibilities that were not met with consistent success.
The most satisfying span came after intermission with two Schoenberg sets: his Three Piano Pieces (op. 11), famous for being the works in which the composer broke through to complete atonality (although theorists argue over whether this was indeed the case), and his minuscule, Webernesque Six Little Piano Pieces (op. 19). Taylor infused the second of the op. 11 pieces with poetic dreaminess and the third with fervor (though not with wit, as one might have wished). Even the potentially genial op. 19 set had a ponderous, professorial quality. Last on the docket was Stravinsky’s virtuosic Three Movements From “Petrushka,” in which Taylor grimaced a great deal, as if playing the piano were an exercise in agony, and slowed down the tempo when the most terrifying doubleoctave passages came on the scene. A too-fast rendition of Scott Joplin’s Stoptime Rag (replete with an apparent memory slip) served as an encore, its directive for the pianist to stomp the beats with his left foot drawing a measure of appreciation from the audience, which unaccountably responded with a standing ovation.