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Friday, February 22, 2008 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Pianist Lise de la Salle: impressive talent

Seattle Times music critic

Out onto the Meany Theater stage Wednesday strode the young pianist Lise de la Salle, wearing a glamorous outfit with long, floppy lace sleeves that concealed half her hands. How in the world was she going to play a piano recital in that?

It wasn't long before we got the answer: marvelously, that's how. De la Salle, barely 20, proved one of the most prodigious (in both senses of the word) talents the President's Piano Series has yet presented. Her recital of Beethoven and Schumann underscored the very positive impression already created by de la Salle's recordings for the Naïve Classics label and made the listener wonder what else this talented, French-born youngster can do at the keyboard.

Her hands look small and delicate, but de la Salle commands a mighty technique that put scarcely a finger wrong all evening in repertoire that demands a lot. These days, it seems that every young virtuoso has spectacular technical ability, but this player has something considerably more: original, thoughtful interpretive talent that is alive to all the nuances of the score and is never content with merely playing the notes.

De la Salle opened with two particularly winning Beethoven sonatas, No. 18 in E-Flat Major and No. 8 in C Minor ("Pathétique"). From her opening phrases, the clarity and drama of her playing commanded the ear, as did the freedom of her phrasing and her wide range of articulation. Some of her tempo choices were a little unusual, but de la Salle was always in control of her performance. The opening of the "Pathétique" was free and spontaneous-sounding; the famous slow movement was all grace and simplicity.

The Schumann Symphonic Etudes of Op. 13, too, emerged with unusual clarity and sweeping lyricism, full of little details that made you rethink this arch-romantic score. The pianist's lightning-fast arpeggios of perfect evenness and her clear concept of the variations' architecture made this a "symphonic" performance indeed.

The two encores were Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C Minor (Op. 23, No. 7) and a Bach/Busoni Chorale, both suggesting further delights in de la Salle's repertoire. More, please.

Melinda Bargreen: mbargreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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