Feltsman finesses Bach, Schumann


This season's Naval Academy Distinguished Artists Series got off to a distinguished start Friday with a masterful recital by Vladimir Feltsman, the Soviet pianist whose emigration to the United States was a cause celebre in the 1980s.

Mr. Feltsman's career in the West began bumpily amid Cold War hype, intense critical scrutiny and the artist's frenetic concert schedule, but it has weathered the storm and he remains very much in demand as one of the world's top-ranked pianists.

That certainly was the message of his performance at Alumni Hall.

Mr. Feltsman is not the prototypical hotblooded romantic pianist of the Russian school. While he has technique to burn, he speaks in the more measured, contemplative voice of scrupulous musicality.

His Bach is quite special. His C-minor Partita was full-bodied Steinway Bach all the way, yet delivered without the swooning affectation that sometimes dooms Johann Sebastian on the modern piano. With Mr. Feltsman, the line gives, but never goes limp.

He unearthed extraordinary details of character in each of the movements -- the lucidity of the Allemande, the nervous counterpoint of the Courante, the Beethoven-like intensity of the opening Sinfonia and the dazzling pyrotechnics of the closing Capriccio were stunning in their impact.

To Schumann's "Carnaval", Mr. Feltsman brought a sense of evolving drama that made the work sound like the pianistic song-cycle it is. In the manner of great Schumann "lieder," each interlude was carefully crafted to move inexorably to the next. Even the concluding March, a rouser to be sure, was tailored to fit Mr. Feltsman's conception of the overarching dramatic whole.

Schumann the fiery romantic and Schumann the lyric poet seemed to be emanating from the same lofty place.

Mr. Feltsman's Mozart (the C-major Sonata, K.330) was a sober re-examination of what the music is all about. A welcome review, but perhaps not the way you'd want to hear Mozart again and again.

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