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Dr. Eusebius and Mr. Florestan

New York
Weill Recital Hall
04/19/2002 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Fantasia K475; Sonata K457
Johannes Brahms: Four Pieces, Op. 119
Anton Webern: Variations
Robert Schumann: Carnaval

Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)

Gottlieb Wallisch has reached the stage where a young performer has conquered all of the technical obstacles to proper musical communication. He possesses a strong touch, supple dexterity and a more than adequate degree of accuracy. All of these athletic qualities were on display last evening for his “distinctive debut” at Weill Recital Hall and, in the main, this was a pleasant coming-out party with the hint of better days to come. Mr. Wallisch began his performance with a reading of the C Minor Fantasia which featured a solid phrase building ability, an assertively declarative side which unfortunately deserted him for the bulk of the program in favor of a more prosaic narrative persona who guided us all on our journeys in too formal a manner. Although he traversed the literalness of the Brahms valedictory pieces without incident, the ultimate feeling we all experienced was that of a calm sea and prosperous voyage rather than a “journey not the arrival matters” sense of emotional truth. The last Rhapsody in E Flat was rendered in a more satisfyingly freewheeling, colorful style, as if the extrovert was peeking out of this otherwise rather stiff, bifurcated musical personality.

Courageously, the young Austrian began the second half of the recital with Webern (truth be told, this was the piece that brought me hither), but disappointed with a tentative performance not emphasizing the through the wringer peregrination. The middle part was taken at a much too relaxed tempo and missed all of the excitement of a truly polished performance, say that of Uchida or Ax. But then again, this is a new artist with a solid grasp of the technical; he simply needs time in the incubator of the poetic muse.

Make no mistake about it: Robert Schumann was crazy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his piano pieces wherein he describes the lives of his imaginary friends in the “League of David”. Perhaps Carnaval was the wrong work for this foursquare practitioner to feature: its epigrammatic nature is hard to pull off without large portions of expressive poesy and subtle but distinct changes in personality. Mr. Wallisch, relying much too heavily on the sustaining pedal, tended to paint all his portraits in the same colors, each legitimate enough but the totality a bit stiff. He did employ a strong armamentarium of dynamic variety and presented textbook tempi contrasts, but the ghosts of Eusebius and Florestan strutted and fretted too tamely for my taste. Not that any of this recital was below standard: rather we may be catching this rising star a little too early in his ascendancy. Interestingly, the encore piece, Debussy’s exotic and erotic Soiree dans Grenade, was the best played of the evening. Here that leaning on the pedal wasn’t at all out of place and there seemed to be the gleam of a painter’s eye (and ear) emerging from the amorphous light. I certainly would like to check in on Gottlieb Wallisch in a few years. He has enormous potential; what he needs now is a few years away from his teachers to learn more about life and love and less about sharps and flats.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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