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Pianist Diane Walsh
The Romantic Ethos:
Diane Walsh in Recital
By Gary R. Lemco
A ROMANTIC PIANIST with a finely honed, expressive temperament, Diane Walsh played an exquisite recital at Le Petit Trianon Theatre, San Jose, Saturday, October 30, 2010 courtesy of the Steinway Society the Bay Area. A small but enthralled audience sat quite mesmerized by Walsh’s program of Liszt and Schumann, which combined Old-World lyricism and American technical finesse in an uncommon alchemy of rare and poignant beauty.
Walsh began with an extended Liszt group, the first piece of which, Vallee D’Obermann, brought upon us an immediate sense of Walsh’s capacity for Romantic ardor and agony, in which deeply contrasted textures and affects could merge into a meaningful whole. Based on a novel by Senancourt, the Obermann persona, like Byron’s Manfred, wanders as a result of some nameless sin, searching Nature for consolation. This through-composed piece set a gorgeous tone in its descending motif, sectionalized but always present, as the expansive piece combines ballade, etude, and Hungarian Rhapsody in the course of its monumental ecstasies of longing, despair, and triumph. Walsh certainly invested the piece with persuasive passion—it could have withstood even more volume from her canny hands—as well as the poetic license to avoid the metronome while breathing each phrase as a vocal emanation of tender love song or disruptive torment. Happily, not a sound of applause after this mighty introduction.
The Grande Etude de Paganini No. 3 ensued, the famed “La Campanella.” whose repeated notes echo the little bells that grace Paganini’s Violin Concerto in B Minor. In the Busoni arrangement, added cadenzas and fioritura commend themselves to Walsh’s easy virtuosity, the pearly play and clarion peals contrasting with the sonorous block chords and double octaves. At its convulsive finale, the audience did rise in applause for what would be a potent recital in the grand tradition.
The lyrical Sonetto Del Petrarca, as Ms. Walsh pointed out, responds to the Italian poet’s courtly love for Laura, a married woman who inspired 365 love songs, one composed each day of the poet’s unrequited love. We could hear “lachrymae,” teardrops, suffusing the chromatic harmonies and rhetorical phrases, each set off by a brief cadenza. Bewitching delicacy alternated with declamations and wistful sighs, a perfect realization of Liszt’s version of Schumann’s innigkeit, or inward glance.
We heard Walsh in two of the Transcendental Etudes, separated by the familiar Valse oubliee No. 1. The “Halloween gift” from Walsh took the form of the Feux Follets Etude No. 5 in B-flat Major, an imitation of the Will o’ the Wisp phenomenon above marshes and fens. Walsh’s hands had to flutter and sing simultaneously, the double notes and chromatic scales moving at a frenetic pace while a melody must hang diaphanously in the air, light as a feather. The many anticipations of Ravel were quite prominent. The more heroic F Minor Etude No. 10 rang forth in dark waves, presaging in ravishing sonorities the huge shifts of texture in the B Minor Sonata. The darker harmonies pointed to Mussorgsky, especially the bass chorale which Walsh projected in a stentorian vision of anguished bliss.
We might have translated the Valse oubliee not as the “forgotten waltz,” but as the “forgetful waltz,” whose limpid figures often dissolve in an agogic mix that defies the waltz-rhythm. Liszt may well have mocked certain waltzes and mazurkas in Chopin, which likewise elude easy metric definition.
Prior to the two encores—Schubert’s Moment musical in F Minor and a scurrying Scarlatti sonata—we had the distinct pleasure of Walsh’s epic rendition of Schumann C Major Fantasie, Op. 17. Here, Walsh could luxuriate in her poetic prowess as well as her superb technical means. Neither metronome nor adamantine digital precision ruled the day, but a deep sympathy for Schumann’s huge gestures, his extended arches of sound fashioned after Beethoven, ruled our attention. A breathed, leisurely though massive polyphony mesmerized our senses, the figures projected with schwung and a wonderful capacity for subito, the dramatic shift to a quieter, internal mode of expression. The so-called “Legend” of the first movement rang with subtle and tender intimacies related to Schumann’s love for both Clara Wieck and play in the form of anagrams. Huge pedal points, exalted trills, and fierce declamations coalesced into that magic we—and Goethe—call “Truth and Poetry.” The second movement march—or fairy-tale maerchen—galloped and cavorted with primal energy, rejoicing in its syncopes and layered stretti. Finally, an absolutely controlled Langsam getragen third movement, a clear evocation of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata set as a nocturne of rarified affection. What Walsh possesses—courtesy of masters Irwin Freundlich, Artur Balsam and Richard Goode—is a marvelous singing line, a colored palette of remarkable and unbroken flexibility, qualities that endear her to those of the Davidsbündler who guard the sacred flame. ♪
Dr. Gary R. Lemco is a reviewer for Classical
Music Guide. He lives in California.
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