Conrad Tao, 17, shows fully mature virtuosity in Rachmaninoff
An outstanding 17-year-old pianist gave a performance of a Rachmaninoff concerto Tuesday night in Fort Lauderdale that would have done credit to a veteran virtuoso.
Conrad Tao, a student at Juilliard, performed the Russian composer’s Second Piano Concerto with Symphony of the Americas at the Broward Center, fresh off a performance of a Saint-Saëns concerto with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. He is an amazing dual talent who had previously performed the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto with Symphony of the Americas, and his deep musicality was apparent from the first notes.
Lots of pianists can bang their way through this difficult work. But Tao, from the dramatic flair with which he played the first pensive broken chords, showed a natural feel for the concerto’s yearning melodies and restless energy. Although he is clearly a master of the keyboard, his playing was so smooth and fluent that the difficulty of the work was never at the forefront; nor was there ever a hint of the look-how-hard-this-is virtuosity that marks the playing of some young keyboard phenoms. He could be grand, as in the sweeping swirls of notes that open the last movement, and his technical ability was apparent throughout, as he easily handled the rapid chords, runs and other challenges of a concerto composed by one of history’s great virtuosos.
But it was his playing of Rachmaninoff’s melodic passages that really distinguished this performance, as Tao’s natural musicality brought out the concerto’s smoky, Romantic quality. The orchestra, to which Rachmaninoff assigns much of the thematic material, was an admirable partner under the assured, attentive conducting of artistic director James Brooks-Bruzzese. Standing ovations are so common these days that they don’t mean that much, but in this case the audience rose immediately after the final chord in a spontaneous and virtually unanimous signal of acclaim. As an encore, Tao performed Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 6, a difficult but lightweight work, played by Tao with immaculate technical command.
Another 17-year-old soloist appeared first, Anna María Litvinenko, a student at Miami’s New World School of the Arts, in the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto No. 1. She also revealed herself to be a gifted performer. Although a Romantic virtuoso work like this calls for a more edgy, extroverted performance, she showed a silvery facility with rapid passages, easily handled the broken chords and other technical hazards and displayed a golden tone and sensitive phrasing in the concerto’s languorous melodies. As an encore, she performed the Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki’s new work Violoncello Totale, a difficult piece for unaccompanied cello that attempts to show the variety of sounds that can be drawn from the instrument, including tapping on it with one hand.
The concert opened with Rossini’s William Tell Overture, in a performance notable for oddly subdued trombones in the passages in which they normally bark from the orchestra and spirited playing from the strings in the famous final section.
Symphony of the Americas seems intent this season on presenting soloists who are too young to vote. Next month the orchestra will present the Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1, with the 11-year-old Austrian prodigy Elisso Gogibedaschwilli as soloist.