Rachel Franklin's piano recital yesterday afternoon at the Walters Art Gallery was intelligently programmed and intelligently played.
Her appearance, called "Concert and Conversation," was a pilot of sorts for a series that the gallery plans for next year. It made for a user-friendly concert because a Peabody Conservatory professor of music theory, Eileen Soskin, was on hand at the beginning of each half of the program to make intelligent, accessible and entertaining remarks.
Soskin's talk was icing to an already fine cake. Franklin, a British pianist in her early 30s who is Ann Schein's teaching assistant at the Peabody Conservatory, is a musician with a distinguished pedigree. Her teachers at the Yehudi Menuhin School in England included Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter, and she has worked at the Rubin Academy in Tel Aviv with Irina Zaritskaya, one of the most interesting Chopin players to emigrate from the former Soviet Union.
As it happens, Franklin's most successful playing yesterday came in Chopin's F Minor Ballade. This is one of the most difficult pieces in the composer's oeuvre. Its seemingly improvised structure turns it into a maze in which the pianist must carry the thread that leads out of the maze without letting the audience know that there is a way out. And the exit comes in the form of a coda that is among the most difficult in the repertory.
Franklin played the piece beautifully, with clear textures, a singing tone and a sensible approach to tempos. One of the temptations of the F Minor Ballade is to luxuriate in its beautiful melodies and play it too slowly. Franklin made those melodies beautiful indeed, but she refused to tarry and presented the Ballade with enough forward motion to preserve the line of the music. Her traversal of the fearsome coda was exciting and accurate.
The most unusual pieces on the program were the lTC "Novellette-Caprice" and "Grande Polonaise" of Juliusz Zarebski. The New Grove dictionary calls Zarebski (1854-1885) the most original Polish composer between Chopin and Szymanowski. And his music, with its salon-like elegance and its adventuresome sense of color, does seem to look backward to the one and forward to the other. Franklin played both pieces with the necessary verve and delicacy, making one want to hear more.