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International Keyboard Institute & Festival: Philippe Entremont (piano), Mannes Concert Hall, New York City, 23.7.2008 (BH)


Mozart: Sonata in A Major, KV 331

Beethoven: Sonata in F minor, Op. 57 "Appassionata"

Debussy: Images, Book I

Debussy: Suite pour le piano

Ravel: Pavane pour une Infante défunte

Ravel: Alborada del gracioso

Great artists engender commensurate expectations, and I suspect that the concert hall at Mannes College The New School for Music was not sold out by accident.  Philippe Entremont, now 74, has enjoyed a long and distinguished career, capped most recently by his prowess on the podium.  He has been designated Conductor Laureate for Life of the Vienna Chamber Orchestra as well as the Israel Chamber Orchestra, after serving as Music Director of both ensembles for many years.

Perhaps his devotion to this aspect of his talents has come at a slight cost, since at least in this recital, although there was much to admire, there were also signs of struggle, especially in the first half of the program.  Mozart's well-known Sonata in A Major began with sparkle in its childlike theme, but an overuse of pedal tended to blur many passages that could have benefited from more articulation.  Similarly, despite Entremont's regal approach to Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata, its densest moments tended more toward congestion.  The final Allegro ma non troppo was full of surprises, but some rhythmic imprecision tended to undercut its impact.

More agreeable moments came after intermission, when Book I of Debussy's Images reminded me of what a fearsomely difficult piece it is.  Some excess pedal here was more welcome, helping to maintain the illusion of lightness Debussy requires.  The composer's Suite pour le piano was even more successful—perhaps the best of anything on the program.  Moments in the Prelude were breathtaking, with Entremont playing the Sarabande as if throwing open doors to let in mountain air.  Attention seemed heightened, so that even the beetle rasp of a cell phone was forgotten after being quickly hushed, and the triumphant Toccata caused an outburst of applause and cheers.

After only a brief pause (an interesting trait of all his breaks between pieces) Entremont offered a nostalgic view of Ravel's Pavane pour une Infante défunte, followed by an Alborada del gracioso in which he proved that he still has a bull lurking behind his dapper cream-colored summer blazer.  The audience summoned up loud approval, and he returned, smiling, with a finger up to indicate "just one encore," and ended the evening with the Chopin Polonaise in C sharp minor.

Bruce Hodges

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