Pianist Arghamanyan shows taste and bravura at Gardner Museum

October 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm

By Keith Powers

Pianist Nareh Arghamanyan performed Sunday afternoon at the Gardner Museum.

Taste and restraint are often the last things learned by some of the younger generation of technically proficient, virtuosically inclined musicians. But in a program of introspective contrasts, young Armenian pianist Nareh Arghamanyan made a startling impression with her interpretive acumen Sunday afternoon at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Arghamanyan performed Bach, Schumann and Rachmaninov, forswearing floor-rattling repertory for music that required delicacy and articulated nuance.

Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826, began inauspiciously, the opening Sinfonia sounding wooden and feeling almost sight-read. Not to worry: Arghamanyan quickly warmed up, and the two slow sections interspersed in the set, Allemande and Sarabande, were warmly rendered, long, deeply voiced lines in both hands, the Allemande especially with its melancholy tinge. The brisker movements, notably the Rondeau and Capriccio, developed beautifully as well, but it was the slow cantabile lines that lingered in the ear.

Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 followed. The composer’s musical avatars, the dreamy Eusebius and the robust Florestan, take turns occupying the musical spotlight in these eight miniatures. The works alternate a tonal center between D flat major and F minor, and even though they veer sharply through different moods, because of that they have an alluring unity. Rather than creating an alternately thoughtful, then antic dichotomy, Arghamanyan accented this unifying thread.

It worked organically, just in the way Schumann wanted Florestan and Eusebius to represent the dual nature of one personality, not opposing forces. A gentle slow movement, Warum?—the essence of introspection—was sketched out beautifully, especially in the barely audible recurring left-hand arpeggio.

Arghamanyan closed with two sets by Rachmaninoff, a trio of pieces from Morceaux de fantaisie, Op. 3, and the original six Etudes tableaux, Op. 33. Of the Morceaux, the middle Prelude, featuring the crashing, evocative chords that give it the nickname Bells of Moscow, offered show-stopping phrasing, with almost over-the-top stuck pauses and extravagant gestures.

Arghamanyan established a singer’s line throughout the piece, which easily incorporated her fitful romantic excesses.

The sextet of studies in Op. 33 also offer contrasting moods, but not in any predictable sequence, gradually building in textural complexity to a heroic climax. Arghamanyan read this with distinction as well, creating her own personal triad of works in the center, with the Grave, Moderato and Non allegro growing in tension and tempo, but not in volume. By the time she let loose with the climax, marked Allegro con fuoco, everyone was ready for a heightened, dynamic release.

Here’s hoping that Arghamanyan, who lives and studies in Germany and concertizes mainly in Europe, finds many more engagements on our side of the pond.

Arghamanyan will repeat the Bach, Schumann and Rachmaninoff  Etudes 11 a.m. Oct. 28 in the Lincoln Center Great Performers series in New York.

Music at the Gardner continues 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28 with Musicians from Marlboro performing works by Haydn, Ligeti and Mendelssohn. gardnermuseum.org; 617-278-5156.

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