Suit the ac­tion to the word

Pasatiempo - - Pasa Tempos -

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.

Christo­pher Tay­lor

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