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MUSIC REVIEW : Douglas in Pianistic Show at Ambassador

February 05, 1994|TIMOTHY MANGAN

A gift for being simple is something you won't find in pianist Barry Douglas.

The 33-year-old Irishman, who gave a recital Thursday night at Ambassador Auditorium, apparently never saw a musical phrase he didn't like to fiddle with. In his hands, every piece became a display piece.

His recital proved a fascinating catalogue of pianistic effects, an amazing show of virtuoso fireworks, a gaudy revelation of details. One could often disagree with the music-making, but had to marvel at it all the same.

The winner of the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition had chosen a demanding agenda--nothing less would do: Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Mussorgsky.

Douglas implied himself into every musical sentence along the way and, often as not, impeded the flow of ideas rather than directing them forward. He exposed all the angles and austerities and mystical effects of Scriabin's Seventh Sonata, "White Mass," and sounded like a sensitive robot in the process.

Rachmaninoff's Moments Musicaux, Opus 16, actually seemed to move moment by moment, as he projected every facet and clause piecemeal. The range of colors, dynamics and articulations amazed but sounded deliberately applied. Spontaneity, abandon and a sweeping lyricism eluded him.

All of this could have been much worse with a pianist of lesser gifts. As it was, Douglas made his own prowess engaging and managed as well to completely avoid vulgarity.

The outer movements of Debussy's "Pour le piano" emerged with sparkling clarity and a certain dryness, while the central Sarabande glimmered in the pianist's elegant voicing and stratified coloring.

What turned out to be the pianistic tour de force of the evening, however, was Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition," a work Douglas has recorded and played locally before and which he rightly saved for last.

He made it a parade of intricate details and contrasts and a spectacle of technique. He didn't always capture the likeness of the pictures with all this display--his tempos were too fast, his pursuit of thunder and nuance too earnest--but one forgave him for it.

It was an memorable concert, and it was all Douglas.

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