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October 31, 2007 > A true romantic at the keyboard

A true romantic at the keyboard

By Eman Isadiar

New York pianist Teresa Walters was featured in recital at the Smith Center of Ohlone College in Fremont on Saturday evening, October 13, with a program of Bach-Busoni, Rachmaninoff, Boulanger and Liszt. Presented as part of the college's Season of the Arts, the recital drew an audience of roughly 200 subscribers and college students. Some anecdotal remarks were given by the artist prior to each piece, which were meant to enhance the educational component of the event.

The marketing and publicity materials revealed little about the program in advance of the concert, which made the first piece of the evening fraught with mixed expectations. As the opening few bars of Busoni's arrangement of Bach's Chaconne in D minor flowed out of the Steinway, it became apparent that Walters has a special gift for producing a sweet, singing tone. With her affective cantabile articulation, Walters skillfully brought out some intricate inner voices hidden in the thick textures of Bach's counterpoint as arranged by Busoni.

Similar to Chopin's Pr四udes, those of Rachmaninoff are also twenty-four in number; one in each of the twelve major and minor keys. Of these, perhaps the most often played and best-known is the bombastic Pr四ude in C-sharp minor of Opus 3 composed by a young Rachmaninoff, while the two chosen by Walters personify a much more poetic and lyrical Rachmaninoff as a mature composer. These were the G major and G-sharp minor Pr四udes of Opus 32, which Walters played with a remarkable expressive quality and precision.

The three delightful short pieces titled Trois morceaux pour piano by Lili Boulanger were perhaps the highlight of the program. While the life of this gifted musician who died tragically young remains wrapped in mystery, the three pieces played by Walters were true examples of French impressionism as evidenced by the emblematic parallel fifths and sevenths. Despite her premature death, Lili Boulanger did receive some recognition during her life as a winner of the celebrated Prix de Rome award for composition - an honor which was also bestowed upon her illustrious forebear Claude Debussy with his choral work L'Enfant prodigue.

The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Liszt with the three Sonnets of Petrarch from Les Ann仔s de p粛erinage, the Pr四ude to the Canticle of the Sun of St. Francis, and the Canticle of the Sun of St. Francis. It is clear that Ms. Walters has committed much of her career to performing Liszt's music, particularly the composer's later and religiously-inspired works, which she plays with ease and clarity. This also explains the performer's notable singing tone, which is perfectly adapted to this repertoire. Despite a minor memory lapse in the second Sonnet of Petrarch, Walters played the delicate runs and flurries of Liszt's music with grace and facility.

The most noticeable weakness of the recital was a lack of dynamic depth, which may have been due to the hall's acoustics muffled by the heavy curtains. While the pianissimo passages were crystal clear and bell-like, the strongest dynamic achieved during the whole evening was a mere mezzo forte. The next significant shortfall in the concert was the tapping noise of the damper pedal, caused either by an exaggerated movement of the right foot or a mechanical flaw of the instrument. Finally, Walters' cleverly titled "Keynote Remarks(c)" were lacking in educational content, especially in the absence of printed program notes. While introducing the Pr四udes of Rachmaninoff, Ms. Walters described his music simply as "elegant and powerful." Surely, one of the greatest pianists, composers and conductors of all time deserves an introduction of more than two words, particularly on the campus of a suburban junior college where "Rachmaninoff" is not exactly a household name.

With her graceful presence and romantic touch, Walters will be remembered fondly in Fremont, despite the minor glitches and the half-empty hall. It is no easy task to fill Fremont's Smith Center without mounting a major marketing campaign, unless you are a musical giant such as, say, Jon Nakamatsu, who, by the way, is playing Beethoven's Emperor concerto at the very same venue on March 22 with the Fremont Symphony. Mark your calendars!

Eman Isadiar teaches piano at the Peninsula Conservatory and writes about music around the Bay.

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