Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vassilis Varvaresos

I saw the tall Greek pianist in March at the Cliburn screening recitals at TCU, and he didn't make much of an impression on me. This time, with a different program, he made an impression on me, and not an altogether favorable one. He's the first male contestant who came onstage without a jacket in this year's competition. He started out with Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, and he couldn't put a new spin on the famous first movement. Granted, that's not such an easy thing to do with such a well-known piece. He played the other two movements well enough, though it never seemed like those three movements were part of the same work.

I got a fix on him in the closing selection, Liszt's Sonata in B minor. Varvaresos is one of those manlier-than-thou pianists who's out to prove that he can make more sound and play difficult passages faster than anybody else. This he did very well, as the opening section of the sonata flew by at a breakneck pace. Unfortunately, he also proved that he's not a very deep interpreter. The sonata's quieter passages went by without distinction, and the massive work never came together.

The highlight of his program was his performance of Elliott Carter's Catenaires. The 2006 technical showpiece didn't require much in the way of introspection, and he played it with great assurance despite needing the sheet music in front of him. There was a Looney Tunes-like moment of levity when he finished one page of music, picked it up off the piano with his left hand, and tossed it over his shoulder without stopping his performance. When they assemble the documentary film about this year's contest, that moment is going to look great.

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