The last concert of the season in Peoples' Symphony's Arens Series was a piano recital by Vladimir Feltsman this evening. I approached this with great anticipation, but my hopes were only partially fulfilled.
Feltsman began with a suitably improvisatory-sounding rendition of Mozart's D Minor Fantasy, K. 397, and then completed the first half with four Impromptus by Franz Schubert, collectively published as Op. 90. By his body language and the quick transitions between numbers, Feltsman made it clear that he was presenting the four works as one unit, not to be interrupted by applause, and they actually worked well this way. Each of the Op. 90 Impromptus has its own particular affect, and they vary in style, dynamics, speed, so as to make a nice complementary grouping. Feltsman played this music with crisp articulation, although I was puzzled at one spot during the first impromptu when he slowed down and I felt things were getting a little tentative – as if he was having memory difficulty and was feeling his way through the passage – but it was only a momentary feeling on my part. Thus, I had a very positive feeling by the intermission.
The second half was devoted to the four Ballades by Chopin. Here again, Feltsman made clear by gesture that he wanted no interruption between the pieces and was presenting them as a unit. This, I think, was a mistake. Unlike the Schubert Op. 90 Impromptus, the four Ballades of Chopin, not published under a single opus number and written at various times over a span of seven years, were not intended to be played as a unit, and for good reason. They are very similar in style and structure and plotting of musical incident, and as one follows another close on, they become repetitious. I felt the result was enervating, exhausting. I think a pianist devoting half a recital to Chopin is better advised to provide a mixture of genres, more variety of styles, to keep the audience engaged. Although I know it is customary to present the complete ballades on recordings, that is an entirely different matter, as one can dip in and play one or two as part of a listening session. That said, the playing seemed fine, although I didn't get the same sense of a good match-up of pianist and music with the Chopin.
He played a single encore which he did not announce, a gentle, rippling piece that seemed calculated to calm the audience and send them out in a reflective mood. Which it did.
One more concert remains of the Peoples' Symphony season – May 14 at Washington Irving. I can't attend due to an out-of-town trip that weekend. I'm sure tickets are available – I've donated mine….