Pianist Lise de la Salle, presented by The Friends of Chamber Music, is more at home with Brahms than with her native Frenchmen Ravel and Debussy.
Last Friday night French pianist Lisa de la Salle played a program of French and German music, and though she herself is French, her playing of Brahms was more satisfying than her interpretations of Debussy and Ravel. She began with Johannes Brahms’ Theme and Variations in D Minor, Op. 18b. If the whole evening had stayed at this level of artistry it would have been a special evening indeed. The work started out gravely with a somber, measured pulse. de la Salle has a big sound when needed and she played with power and majesty, phrasing naturally with a nice variety of touch. The last Variation was gorgeous.
Next came Maurice Ravel’s pianist tour de force, Gaspard de la nuit. The first movement, “Ondine,”started off well with shimmering tremolos and silky smooth glissandos. In the second movement, “Le Gibet,” though her control of the repeated B-flat octave bell tones was admirable, there was missing the mysterious haunting atmosphere that needs to be present to bring across the macabre subject. The third movement, “Scarbo,” is a technical challenge of the highest order and in de la Salle’s hands there was a sense of struggle that took away from the music. It sounded difficult instead of virtuosic and the phrasing was abrupt and choppy in places.
After intermission de la Salle played a set of Claude Debussy’s preludes from both Books I and II; Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir was played matter-of-factly with some stretching of rhythms that resulted in jerky phrasing. Next came a playful Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses followed by a disappointing La fille aux cheveux de lin. This prelude, known in English as The girl with the flaxen hair, is one of Debussy’s most beautiful creations but this rendition had no perfume or delicacy of touch, the dynamics being too extreme. La danse de puck, Les danseuses de Delphes, and Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest were the final three preludes.
de la Salle ended her program with Brahms’ huge Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel, Op. 24. This is the second time this piece has been played this season by a visiting pianist, the first being a performance by Simon Trpčeski. Her performance had more to say and really brought the piece to life. With an aria, twenty-five variations and a big fugue at the end, the pianist must bring an assortment of touch and mood to make each variation stand out and to sustain interest. For the most part de la Salle was able to do this. She played with a fluctuating touch, using expressive but not excessive rubato. Each variation was characterized clearly. There were a few moments when, as in the Ravel, there was a sense of struggle with the music, especially in the final fugue, but overall she seemed to be in control.
The sparse crowd, not even filling up half of the Folly Theatre, was appreciative of her efforts and she rewarded them with a beautiful rendition of the Bach-Busoni chorale Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ.
The Friends of Chamber Music
Lise de la Salle, pianist
Friday, February 13, 2015
300 W 12th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.chambermusic.org
Top Photo: Lise de la Salle (Photo by Marco Borggreve / Lynn Goldsmith)