Tonight I attended the spectacular recital by Israeli-born, New York-based pianist Inon Barnatan at Peoples' Symphony Concerts, Washington Irving High School. I had not heard of Barnatan prior to receiving the announcement of this concert, but a visit to his website filled me in nicely before the event. Barnatan has studied with many fine teachers and has had concerto debuts with several leading orchestras in the U.S. and abroad. He has one solo commercial recording to his credit so far, a Schubert disc (second set of Impromptus and the D960 Sonata) that was for sale at intermission. I'm listening now as I write this, and the disc, although made several years ago, captures the same special quality that I heard tonight.
This special quality, which only the best pianist-musicians possess, is the ability to create an effect of spontaneity in their playing even thought it is clear that what they are doing has been very well thought-out and rehearsed. When this is combined with an extraordinarily sensitive touch that creates the most beautiful piano tone I've heard in a long time, one has a fantastic musical experience in store.
Mr. Barnatan assembled a program centered on a very loose theme – the idea of some sort of "awareness of what lies beneath" in all the pieces, according to a footnote in the program. I'm not sure I understand what he is getting at here, but I found it to be a program that cohered very nicely.
The first half began with Claude Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, an early piece not quite characteristic of the mature Debussy although it includes one of his most famous compositions: Clair de Lune. Each movement of this 4-movement suite needs to be carefully characterized, and Barnatan did an excellent job of capturing the special quality of each. From the very first notes, his beautiful tonal production swept me away and held me enraptured. Even at extremes of dynamic range, the piano always sounded beautiful, the tone full and rounded. His soft playing was exquisite, his loud playing full of well-contained power.
Debussy was followed by an arrangement by Ronald Stevenson of a piano fantasy using thematic material from Benjamin Britten's opera, Peter Grimes. (I'm assuming it is composer-pianist Ronald Stevenson who was the composer here; the program just says "Arr. Stevenson" and there are no explanatory notes.) This was hard to judge on first hearing. It certainly held my attention with its dramatic contrasts of mood, but I would want more familiarity before saying much more about it. The same goes for Darkness Visible by Thomas Ad