Guest pianist makes easy work of Mozart

By Josef Woodard
Sep 18, 2007

A few logistical snafus crept into the house when Camerata Pacifica gave the second full concert of its 18th season Sunday afternoon at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura. Seating plans were in disarray, and the season catalog had yet to arrive.

But chalk that up to growing pains, symptoms of upward mobility for this ambitious chamber music organization. The group has recently expanded its staff and its vision to include concerts at various Southern California venues (including San Marino tonight and downtown L.A. on Wednesday) as well as a U.S. and European tour in late spring.

All was well, however, on the musical level — the level that counts.

The current artists-in-residence on the Camerata’s roster include the impressive Irish violinist Catherine Leonard, cellist Ani Aznavoorian, violist Richard O’Neill and pianist Warren Jones.

But this month’s program spotlights a return visit by guest soloist Barry Douglas, a commanding Irish pianist. Douglas bravely took on a dense program combining Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K. 414 — played with crisp flourish by the pianist and a string quintet — with the solo piano thickets of Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata and Lizst’s B-minor Sonata. It came as no surprise that a tuner was brought in to attend to the Steinway during intermission Sunday.

Douglas took this tall order in stride, with little apparent sweat or romantic excess and with a confident sense of musicality in his playing and interpretations. The selections were presented in order of chronology and musical intensity — at least in terms of showpiece standards — and he displayed measured brio and technical ease.

Beethoven’s sonata, the program’s literal centerpiece, made the strongest impression, also serving as a link to both Mozart — an influence — and Lizst — a stylistic descendant. Despite occasional fuzzy-fingered moments, Douglas projected strength and luster. He savored the brief reflective respite of the sonata’s second movement and flung himself artfully into the finale’s dexterous rushes, built on a simple, vibrant melodic theme.

A different workout faced the pianist in Lizst’s rather bombastic tour de force, with its unsubtle dynamic extremes of garrulousness and brooding. The sonata is perhaps best known as a test of virtuosic mettle. Douglas passed the test.