The Raleigh Chamber Music Guild's March 26 Masters Series concert, presented in Fletcher Opera Theater, was dedicated to the memory of pianist Ruth Laredo, whose untimely death prevented her scheduled appearance. Her replacement was the multitalented Awadagin Pratt who, in addition to being a pianist, has studied conducting and the violin and is a strong advocate of arts education. The 1992 Naumberg International Piano Competition winner appeared twice in the Triangle in the 1990s, once with the NC Symphony and once in recital at NCCU. CVNC reviewed his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4 with the Winston-Salem Symphony last season. He still retains his dredlocks and brightly colored clothing. Gone is his (Glenn Gould like) use of a low stool, a victim of airport security and then its loss by a shipping company.
Despite having large hands with massive fingers, Pratt showed remarkable facility for clear and crisp articulation in the two most classical selections. Haydn's Sonata in B-flat, Hob.XVI:41, is one of three published as a set in 1785; it marks the composer's decisive move to the use of the fortepiano and the beginning of his "mature" keyboard style. Some players bring out more of the Mozartean quality that seems to haunt Beethoven's Sonata No. 9 in E, Op. 14/1, but otherwise Pratt clearly delineated its formal classical structure. Late Beethoven foreshadowed Romanticism, so it was appropriate that Pratt gave the Sonata No. 31 in A-flat, Op. 110, much more subjective freedom.
For the second half of the program, Pratt drew upon a technique used by some of the great pianists of the "golden age." Instead of pausing between selections, he improvised bridge passages, providing seamless linkage between selections that shared characteristics or mood – and preventing applause. One item – Rachmaninov's Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op. 32/12 – was dropped, and the printed order was reconfigured to create two groups.
Full blown Romanticism dominated. Chopin's Nocturne in B, Op. 62/1, luxuriates in plush melodies; Pratt gave full value to the difficult chain of trills that adorn the piece while sustaining the melodic line. He brought out the mood of wistful longing in Rachmaninov's Prelude in B minor, Op. 32/10. This melded well with the Andante cantabile of the composer's Moment Musical in B minor, Op. 16/3, described in unsigned notes for Ruth Laredo's recording as "a soft improvisation on a single theme."
Pratt pulled out all the stops (pun intended) in the next set, Harold Bauer's transcription of César Franck's Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18, and Busoni's keyboard arrangement of the mighty Chaconne from Bach's Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, S.1004. He spun his magic using a wide palette of color and dynamics, ranging from a hushed pastoral mood to stupendous waves of sound suggestive of the organ originals in the Franck.
The encore was selected for maximum contrast: Pratt played a gentle Sicilienne by the multi-talented Maria Theresia von Paradies (1759-1824). Among her teachers were Leopold Kozeluch and Salieri, and it is thought that Mozart dedicated his Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, K.456, to her.
This was the second RCMG concert sponsored by Zenph Studios, Inc. Company executive John Q. Walker described the strong support of both Awadagin Pratt (who will be a judge of this summer's International Piano-e-Competition) and Ruth Laredo in Zenph's development of special software to recreate the great recorded performances of long-dead pianists using a mechanism attached, in this case, to a Yamaha Disklavier Pro piano. A scratchy transfer of a 1921 recording of a Chopin Waltz played by Rachmaninov was followed by the ghostly sight of moving keys and pedals as the same performance was recreated on the Yamaha. Improvised extra notes abounded in the recreation of Rachmaninov's version of "The Flight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakov. A performance of "Tiger Rag" by Art Tatum rounded out this presentation, which came immediately after the intermission. For more information on Zenph Studios' work, click here.