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Recital Review Print

Pittman Pleases

September 23, 2003 - Raleigh, NC:

On the evening of September 23, in Carswell Hall, Meredith faculty piano instructor and UNCG DMA candidate Frank Pittman gave the trial run of his degree-required recital - and a fine one it was - to a sizable audience, if not a full house. He opened with Mozart's Adagio in b, K.540, dating from 1788, which he played in a nicely nuanced fashion. He followed this with Clementi's mostly ebullient Sonata in B-flat, Op. 24/2, dating from the same year. It made for a good contrast and was equally well played. Pittman contributed a cadenza of his own to the piece. It was good to hear a work of this too often neglected composer, and to hear it so well presented was an added bonus.

After a brief break, Pittman offered a brilliant rendition of Alberto Ginastera's last composition, his one-movement twelve-tone Sonata No. 3, Op. 55, dating from 1982, making another marked contrast with the preceding works. The work has a three-note melody frequently repeated in progression up the twelve notes of the keyboard, but is not at all atonal à la Schonberg. As a part of the Ginastera set, we then heard "Milonga" from the composer's Dos canciones , Op. 3, the "Pequeña danza" from the ballet Estancia, both in piano transcriptions by the composer, and "Malambo," Op. 7, all three works dating from 40 years earlier. The last of these contains a repeated three-note melody that made a member of the audience quip to me at its conclusion that the work was "also known as 'Variations on 'Three Blind Mice.'" These works were likewise finely played. Pittman revealed in introductory comments that the dance music of Ginastera was the focus of his research project for his degree. He read an English translation of the text of the song as well.

The candidate concluded the performance with Chopin's Ballade in f, Op. 52/4, dating from 1842-3, a century earlier than the short Ginastera pieces. It was a good rendition, although the pianist lost his way in it a couple of times, recovering nicely however. Nonetheless, this was the least satisfying piece of the evening's fare. The enthusiastic audience, which included some of his students as well as friends and admirers, brought Pittman back to the stage for several bows, but no encore was granted.

At the outset of the evening, Pittman welcomed the listeners and announced the purpose of the program. Eschewing written program notes in an openly proclaimed protest in a stated response to critical commentary concerning their absence from many printed programs, he expressly opted for oral commentary. He told the interesting stories surrounding the circumstances of composition of the two opening works and offered analyses of their content and style. The Mozart piece is thought to have been written to raise money to pay off debts, being more serious than much of that composer's opus. The Clementi was composed for and played by its author in a competition with Mozart, set up by the emperor and pronounced a draw. The latter subsequently used the opening motif, played by Pittman in demonstration, as the opening one of the Overture to his opera The Magic Flute. Clementi apparently idolized Mozart, but the latter seemingly brushed off Clementi as "another of those Italians" to the extent of not even acknowledging this debt. After the break, Pittman offered similar material concerning the works on the second half, proclaiming the Chopin work perhaps the greatest of that composer's output and one of his personal favorites. His commentary was interesting and entertaining, and a perfectly acceptable substitute for a written form thereof. It is the total lack of either that this reviewer decries and finds inappropriate (and from his reading of the critical press around the nation, he sees that he is not alone), most especially in the setting of an institution of higher learning. The artist bio in the printed program gives an impressive list of activities, accomplishments, and favorable evaluations by critics, whose quoted comments should, however, be attributed to their authors and sources.