French pianist returns to Meany Hall

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By: R.M. Campbell

Lise de la Salle was by most accounts a prodigy. Born in France in 1988, the pianist made her recital debut, so to speak, at 9 in a live broadcast on Radio-France and her concerto debut in Avignon four years later. At 13 she graduated from the Paris Conservatory. She made her American debuts at 16, in New York and Washington, D.C. Now, she has a full-fledged international career.

Her recital at Meany Hall gave ample evidence of her multi-faceted talent. She has huge technical resources, not surprisingly, but that is only the beginning, unlike so many other virtuosi of her age. She has refinement, individuality, musicality. Pretty remarkable for someone 21 years old.

Her program was simple enough: Beethoven paired with Prokofiev, nothing esoteric but everything considered and well-executed. She played two well-known Beethoven sonatas: "Les Adieux" (Op. 81a) and the "Moonlight" (Op. 27, No. 2). She cast the first in dramatic terms, with phrases that resembled cut-glass, not always effective but distinct nonetheless. Every note could be heard, balances were admirable. For a sonata that is famous for its expressivity, her reading was remarkable cool and distant in terms of its emotion. She gave the entire enterprise a kind of vivid theatricality with sharp accents and curt phrases. This was not the case with the "Moonlight." The famous first movement was utterly limpid and beautiful, just like moonlight, with a slight undercurrent of mystery. Her legato was perfectly placed. The second movement was light and quick and fun while the concluding finale was full of agitation and storms.

Prokofiev’s "Romeo and Juliet" transcribed from the ballet score for solo piano, must be a mighty temptation to a pianist. And de la Salle did her best to give it the force and power of the original score for full orchestra. But she couldn’t. There are too many voices of different colors and timbres that need to be aired. The piano, for all the variants one can produce, is still one instrument. I kept thinking of the ballet and the orchestra and found the suite to be at best, second-best, despite all of de la Salle’s efforts. Alas.

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