The Best of the Lot
Weill Recital Hall
Franz Schubert: Sonata in A Major
Frederic Chopin: Four Mazurkas; Ballade in F Minor
Maurice Ravel: Sonatine
Delphine Bardin (piano)
The degree of interpretive difficulty for the performance of the mature Schubert sonatas precludes most attempts by younger artists; Emanuel Ax, for example, has only just recently begun a serious study of these subtle pieces, so complex in their revolutionary use of form as content. Although not terribly daunting in terms of manual dexterity, these magnificent essays are extremely challenging in the more arcane arts of phrase building, management of the drama, and poetic expression. It was thus especially impressive that young French pianist Delphine Bardin chose to open her debut presentation at Carnegie’s smaller room, the Weill Recital Hall, with one of the most intricate of the set, the Deutsch 959. Her nobility of design was apparent from the opening section as she confidently launched a reading which was notable for its elasticity, majesty and depth of feeling.
It is easy, in fact desirable, to get lost in the huge first movement. Ms. Bardin’s conception of this titanic endeavor was grand throughout and solidly grounded in reality. I would have wished for more of the dramatic gesture at certain points, but I was sympathetic to her sense of the attachment to the earth, even in the face of such heavenly poesy. The Andantino was spectacular, this thoroughly matured practitioner able to manage a singularly metronomic left hand while allowing her right to willfully wander free (compare the Schoenberg Op. 11b). Here we felt the dizzying heights of Classical oration made all the more expressive by her insistence on a firm foundation. After a nimble Scherzo, Bardin developed a lovely and lyrical final movement, caressing the famous theme (the opening music of “Wings”, for you American sitcom buffs) with her long, loving fingers. The entire experience, taking up more than half of the whole program, was a gigantic raveling, an entropy not leading to chaos but rather bliss, a fairy tale winding down of a finely crafted melodic clock. This was an exceptional performance for a young person.
The “Distinctive Debut” Series at Weill is a consistently satisfying and revelatory experience. Those chosen to perform here are heavily screened by the international musical community and, by way of reciprocity, young artists from America get their chance to present their skills to an appreciative European audience. Over the years I have heard many potentially great performers start their major careers here. In the case of Delphine Bardin, I feel comfortable in jettisoning the concept of potential: she is already there, now the world needs to catch up with her. Continuing the delightfully off-balanced nature of the Schubert, Ms. Bardin began the second part of the recital with that quintessentially tipsy form the mazurka, selecting four examples of the genre which suitably dazzled. Her Chopin is most impressive for its lack of flash; she consistently avoids the cheap and tawdry in favor of the beautiful and profound. She seems positively transported by the music, and, although she plays strictly from memory, endearingly appears to be staring at the score directly in front of her (I kept waiting for her to turn one of the imaginary pages). At some point during the F minor Ballade, I became aware of Ms. Bardin’s construction of this entire recital as a mirror of the opening Schubert. The first piece corresponded to the elongated opening movement, the other three works roughly imitating the three smaller movements coming ecstatically undone. Pretty heady stuff for a debut, the conception and execution of this type of structure worked its magic on an appreciative audience, many of whom, I overheard at the interval, sign up every year for this series so that they can regale their friends with “I heard them when” tales in future.
Maurice Ravel wrote more difficult pieces for the piano than the Sonatine (especially Gaspard de la Nuit), but never any more ravishing. In a nod to her heritage, Ms. Bardin ended this elegant recital with an enticing example of Gallic beauty. Her sensuality here was craftily increased by its simplicity. In fact, in a program devoid of the fortissimo, this quiet finale, like a stage whisper, was all the more eloquent. The common characteristic of the three composers on the program is that, although they each produced some of the greatest music for the piano in history, none of them were especially capable keyboard artists (and, continuing this theme, Ms. Bardin chose the Arabesque of poor Schumann as her encore). Each relied on the genius of others to communicate their compositions most effectively. Of all of the pianists on display this night, Delphine Bardin is, by far, the best of the lot.
Her teacher, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, is to make his American recital debut in just three weeks at the big hall here at Carnegie (he has previously appeared a couple of times in New York with orchestra) and, I have no doubt, this apt pupil can follow in his footsteps whenever she feels that she is ready. Appearing to be a very modest individual, almost uncomfortable receiving applause, she may take a few years to hone her skills even further before taking this ultimate plunge. For such a superb combination of dexterity, fluidity, intelligence and musicianship, I look forward to that glorious night and am certainly willing to wait.
Frederick L. Kirshnit