By Scott MacClelland
DESPITE A PROGRAM that went slightly askew, pianist Orion Weiss gave his Carmel Music Society audience a formidable show of brilliant pianism that should have the them buzzing for some time to come. Looking for generalities about the Sunday recital is easy, and right up there with all the others was sheer memory; Weiss was able to shift gears without seeming to engage any thought process. His whole concert was completely in his fingers and feet, with no evident concern for any matters of technique. The focus remained on his effortless artistry.
Still, if you took your attention away from this loftiest of goals, you were left quite gobsmacked by his complete mastery of craft. And he has something else that puts him ahead of the pack: ambition. Weiss’ career has already put him on the world stage, steps above his previous appearances here with the Monterey Symphony in November, 2015—when he still had hair. (He takes on the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Symphony this coming Saturday and Sunday.)
Weiss’ recital on Sunday was more about rumination than bravura. The opening variations on a Norwegian folksong by Grieg, a local premiere, only fired up with force in its closing minutes. Then, abruptly, Weiss abandoned the Schubert Sonata in G in favor of a “non-sonata” consisting of the third and fourth Ballades by Chopin, with the impressionistic Les cloches de Genève by Liszt sandwiched in between. Weiss’ spoken explanation for the change was less than coherent, though the playing remained above reproach.
That change effectively unbalanced the program, diverting the focus from the big (a full sonata) to the small. Indeed, the second half consisted of only short bits: Schumann’s Forest Scenes and Ravel’s Le tombeau de Couperin. In so doing, any points of bravura evaporated. Of course, the Chopin Ballades contain moments that rise up with ardor. But the Schumann and Ravel work their charms at the miniature level.
That is, until the final Ravel movement, Toccata, which gathered force into a blistering climax along the lines of the composer’s famous (infamous?) Bolero.
All is not lost. Weiss tackles one of the great bravura thrillers this weekend with the Monterey Symphony.