Classical music: Conrad Tao and friends play Rachmaninoff, Bartok and Copland

Dallas News

At age 20, pianist Conrad Tao joins great intellect to formidable technique. Also a composer, he holds an artist-in-residence appointment with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, which presented him in a Saturday afternoon concert at the Dallas City Performance Hall.

Part of the DSO’s Soluna festival, the program embraced the festival’s focus on immigrant musicians who’ve greatly enriched America’s cultural life.

Composed in the middle of the populist works that made him famous, this is very different music — intellectually rigorous, more dissonant, much of it derived from three- to five-note motifs. It opens in what Leonard Bernstein called Copland’s “handing down the law” manner (or something like that), and closes in great seriousness; but the central scherzo is playful, even mischievous.

Tao gave a gripping performance, finely timed and layered, but the rhythmic quirks of the scherzo would have been set in higher relief at a marginally slower pace.

Technique and flair were never in doubt in four of Rachmaninoff’s Op. 39 Études-tableaux, but the F-sharp minor felt a bit pressed, and the D minor was pushed and pulled about too much. The A minor, for which Rachmaninoff suggested the title The Sea and Sea Gulls for Respighi’s orchestration, was ravishing, though, and the D major was genuinely exciting.
Read the rest of the review here