Israeli-born pianist presents superb program at TCU in Fort Worth

Inon Barnatan

By olin Chism

FORT WORTH -- An exceptional young Israeli-born pianist, Inon Barnatan, presented PianoTexas' latest solo recital Thursday night in PepsiCo Recital Hall at Texas Christian University. He's not yet among the biggest names in the concert scene, but if Thursday's mesmerizing program is typical, he soon will be.

This season's PianoTexas focuses primarily on the music of Schubert. Barnatan contributed to that, but his program also included music of Debussy, the British composer Thomas Ades and Ravel. All in all, music of high quality and, in the case of Ades, considerable originality.

Debussy's Suite Bergamasque, whose most famous component is Clair de lune, showed Barnatan as a master of graceful, flowing music (the Prelude) who also possesses a gift for the chipper and playful (the Minuet and Passepied). It was almost inevitable that Clair de lune would be the high point of the suite; Barnatan gave it a lovely, subtle performance that brought to mind the magic of Debra Saylor at the Cliburn Amateur some years ago.

Ades' Darknesse Visible distorts a John Dowland composition of Shakespeare's time to transform it into a very modern work that is at times weird, at times serene, but is strangely mesmerizing. This can't be an easy piece to interpret, and that it worked is a tribute to Barnatan's musical imagination.

Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit was by turns gracefully flowing ( Ondine) spookily atmospheric ( Le gibet) and ferociously virtuosic ( Scarbo), and Barnatan mastered its many intricacies.

The Schubert came last. It was the great C minor sonata, one of the composer's last three works in the form and, like the other two, an acknowledged masterpiece. Barnatan gave a performance that was both poetic and dramatic, with an exceptionally introspective slow movement as a high point.

More Schubert sonatas, including arguably the greatest of them all, in B-flat, D. 960 with Paul Badura-Skoda at the keyboard, are coming up later in the festival. The series is well worth a drive to TCU.