The piano is really a huge percussion box in which sounds are made by hammers striking steel strung under thousands of pounds of pressure. Beautiful sounds should not be able to come out of such an instrument, and, in fact, they rarely do -- even when played by some very famous pianists.
In terms of popular acclaim, Nelson Freire is not a very famous pianist. But last night the Brazilian-born artist made some of the most beautiful sounds this listener has ever heard come out of a piano.
With the Baltimore Symphony and guest conductor James DePreist, Freire gave an extraordinarily poetic and personal performance of the beloved Schumann Concerto.
Just a few of the virtues of this performance were an amazingly broad dynamic range in which individual sounds were as lovely and polished as those produced by a great string player; impeccable musical instincts (Freire is one of the few pianists who actually manages to keep a steady, sure rhythmic pulse in the last movement); and a technique that is able both to spin out inhumanly even scales and to make them sing with very human poignancy. Freire's was a very free interpretation with some very individual ideas. But the pianist's conviction made everything he did seem natural.
His light-fingered work would not have been so ravishing had it not been for a sensitive and considerate accompaniment by DePreist and the orchestra that made it possible for the pianist to work his magic.
DePriest continues to impress as one of the finest conductors of his generation (he is now 54 years old). He conducts with a sure and steady beat and a minimum of fuss. Before the Schumann Concerto he led a stylish, affecting performance of Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite," and he ended with a performance of Nielsen's Symphony No. 5 that impressed with its brisk (but never hectic) pace and its heroic energy.