In concert: three pianists of international repute

Pianists used to record to enhance their reputations. But in the past three decades, many careers have been launched and sustained primarily by recordings. In the cases of Aldo Ciccolini and Soviet pianist Lazar Berman, their recordings preceded them to the United States, whereas the concert career of the young Yugoslav Ivo Pogorelich has been inextricably intertwined with his gramophone projects.

Mr. Berman's concert here was marked by a certain sense of anticipation, not all of it artistic, as it turned out. Concertgoers were required to pass through airport-style metal detectors and had to endure two screaming Jewish Defense League members protesting the plight of Soviet Jews before the concert could begin.

Berman first played in the US 11 years ago, preceded by some legendary Liszt recordings and an explosive promotional campaign proclaiming him the greatest pianist of the century. No one could have lived up to the expectations, and Berman didn't. Worse still, his strengths were ignored as well, in the often vengeful critical backlash.

Finally, Berman disappeared from the US scene, as much because of the US/Soviet political chill as because of an inability to convince the press in particular that he was, indeed, a pianist to be taken seriously.

Eight years later, Berman looks and sounds the same. He conjures the same huge flood of sound from his keyboard, yet offers some exquisite soft playing as well, and puts forth his performances with his special blend of emotional candor. His Liszt is grand in scale, wide in dynamic range, and a bit less languorous of pace than has become the interpretive norm of late.

He pulled out all the stops in ``Apr`es une lecture de Dant'e'' from the Second ``Years of Pilgrimage,'' the transcriptions of ``Ave Maria'' and ``Erl King,'' and the Mephisto Waltz No. 1. They were satisfying, colorful performances in the Berman style, which automatically made them more interesting than the usual approach from the international virtuoso set.

Six Shostakovich ``Preludes'' followed the intermission, and then a performance of Mussorgsky's ``Pictures at an Exhibition.'' Berman delivered it in a straightforward, virtuosic fashion, though he tended to substitute dynamics for rich coloristic effects, and also seemed to tire near the end. Beyond that, one sensed a certain spark has gone out of Berman's playing. Nevertheless, his brand of virtuosity and tonal splendor is rare today, and how many younger aspirants could learn from this style and approach!

Berman has been on tour to various cities around the country, and his Eugene, Ore., recital has been taped for National Public Radio to be broadcast in the near future (check local listings). Aldo Ciccolini

Mr. Ciccolini's Alice Tully Hall recital promised more than it delivered. The pianist came to almost cult prominence as the man who recorded the complete works of eccentric French composer Erik Satie. Ciccolini's career - both in the studio and on stage - has always been larger in Europe, and he has stayed away from the US for many seasons. His recordings of a vast amount of repertoire range from Liszt and Chopin, to Emmanuel Chabrier and D'eodat de S'everac.

For this New York program, Scarlatti, Clementi, Satie, and Chabrier were on the bill. Ciccolini performed seven Scarlatti sonatas with sobriety and an emotional severity that made the music sound rather bland. The Clementi sonata seemed an odd choice to follow all that Scarlatti, being music full of rhetoric without inspiration. The Satie ``Gnossiennes'' found him in more interesting territory, and musically the program fairly exploded with the Chabrier selections, particularly the concluding ``Bour'ee fantasque.''

Yet one had to note a certain lack of charm and sense of humor to Ciccolini's performances that was not missing on his earlier recordings. Ivo Pogorelich

Lack of charm and humor also were evident in Mr. Pogorelich's playing at Carnegie Hall. It cannot have been easy to be catapulted to international notoriety in 1980 at the age of 22 and then to build a career on diffidence, posture, and attitude without much interpretive depth to back it up.Today, the attitudinizing is still there - both on stage and on his several Deutsche Grammophone recordings - the posturing and the arbitrary musical decisions made in a desperate attempt to put his stamp on his performance style.

At Carnegie he took the music apart and put it back together with the intense concentration of a child playing with an Erector Set structure. Unexpectedly, since Pogorelich is so acclaimed for his digital prowess, the passage work is often rather lumpy, and the tone with which he plays most of his music is thin, colorless, and lacking in dynamics. When he is executing octave passage work - when the fingers lock and he can pound quite mercilessly - the tone becomes loud and too often even crude.

One must always hope that some day Pogorelich will find his artistic way. Until that time, he can only be viewed as a musical oddity in a world looking for so much more.

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