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Keyboard fanciers always eagerly anticipate the fall and spring concerts on the Adams Foundation Piano Recital Series at Elon University, and a larger audience than usual was on hand for a powerhouse performance in the intimate Whitley Auditorium. The Ventura, California-based foundation establishes piano recitals in select smaller communities throughout America. Performers at Elon use one of the finest sounding instruments in the state, a gorgeous, rich-sounding restored 1923D Steinway piano with its remarkable PrecisionTouch Design hammer mechanism designed by David Stanwood. Fans of Awadagin Pratt, a frequent visitor to our state, were rewarded with a stunning evening which combined his extraordinary broad and powerful dynamics with the exceptional tonal range of this piano.
My favorite crutch, Five Centuries of Keyboard Music, by John Gillespie, describes the Sonata in A-flat, Op. 110 (1821), by Ludwig Beethoven (1770-1827), as one of the composer's "most astonishingly expressive works" containing "expansive developments, liberty in form, (and) a genesis of themes from an initial theme." An almost operatically dramatic opening movement leads to a harmonically adventuresome scherzo-like second movement before the work concludes with a monumental fugue. Pratt brought plenty of power to the first movement while skirting the tempos' speed limit. The gentler dynamics of the second movement was a welcome contrast. His control of all the interweaving strands of the fugue as well as the build up of tension in the finale made for a breathtaking conclusion.
Pratt explained to the audience that Robert Schumann (1810-56) never completed his Etudes in the Form of Free Variations on a Theme of Beethoven, WoO 31; the score was only published in 1976. Pratt made his own arrangement of the sequence as "a deconstruction," beginning with the variations least related to the theme and gradually moving into the ones more closely modeled until concluding with the theme itself. The theme used comes from the main theme of the Allegretto from Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. Pratt brought plenty of weight to Schumann's somber vision while keeping the musical lines very clear despite the composer's fast passages.
Pratt's own transcription for piano of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, S.582, by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). blew the audience away! His left hand was a blur as he conjured up an organ-like deep, rich bass sonority. The power and clarity of his articulation was astonishing.
Pratt described the sound qualities of four selections from Twenty Four Preludes for Piano, Op. 41 (1973), by Lera Auerbach, as combining aspects of Dmitri Shostakovich with static elements like Arvo Pärt and Olivier Messiaen, along with coloristic elements of the later. The composer’s website describes her music as "characterized by ... stylistic freedom and juxtaposition of tonal and atonal musical language." Pianist-composer Auerbach was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, educated at the Juilliard School and the Hannover Hochschule für Musik; she divides her international career between New York City and Hamburg. Pratt played Preludes Nos. 3 in G, 13 in F-sharp, 6 in B minor, and 11 in B. The first was an apt choice since its sustained ff meant Pratt's sustained thundering passage-work overrode the passing of a freight train on the nearby tracks! No. 11, a fascinating spare study in ppp sounds, served to display Pratt's ability to play with extreme delicacy.
The Sonata in B minor by Franz Liszt (1811-86) gave ivory lovers plenty of red meat! This work is not for the timid, and Pratt pulled out all the stops, producing a tsunami of sound while unerringly sustaining the overall structure like a surfer riding a wave. The clarity and speed of some passages had to be heard - and seen - to be believed.