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Pratt Inaugural at CCM

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Dec 3, 2005 - 11:34:58 AM in reviews_2005

(first published in The Cincinnati Post Dec. 2, 2005)

Seats were scarce at Robert J. Werner Recital Hall at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Thursday night.

The event’s 8 p.m. starting time was delayed slightly so ushers could find scattered singles in the 300-seat hall.

The occasion was a signal one, the inaugural recital of CCM’s newest artist-in-residence, Awadagin Pratt.

An overnight sensation when he won the Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1992 – the first African-American classical instrumentalist to do so – Pratt, now 39, is also a full-time member faculty member who is making his presence known in the community.

His CCM debut was striking in every way, for the power of his artistry, for his dreadlocks, beard, black vest and red shirt (U.C. Bearcat colors) and for a concentration and seeming reserve that spurn playing to the gallery.

His program was a choice and generous one, roughly chronological from Haydn to Rachmaninoff, with a big helping of Bach at the end.

He opened with Haydn’s Sonata in B-flat Major, H.XVI, 41, a pair of sparkling, back-to-back Allegros with a soft, cushioned ending.

He played two Beethoven Sonatas. Op. 14, No. 1 in E Major was precise and tinged with drama, though some of the definition was lost in the rapid finale. In Op. 110 in A-flat Major, he captured Beethoven in all his moods. The opening movement was tenderly melodic over a rippling accompaniment. Beethoven as prankster held sway in the quirky Allegro with its abrupt twists and stops. Pratt painted the mournful Adagio in shades of gray, setting up the contrasting finale, which built from a soft-spoken fugue to a climactic ending.

There was a romantic set after intermission: Chopin’s Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1, where Pratt executed the demanding chain trills with ease and fluidity, Rachmaninoff’s rhapsodic Moment Musical in B Minor, and Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variation, Op. 18 (transcribed by Harold Bauer). The latter was a beauty, the serious-minded Fugue capped by an extremely moving Variation on the opening prelude theme.

Bach had the last word and how. The Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor was a model of clarity and smooth articulation, from the piquant harmonic collisions in the Fantasia to the masterful Fugue, where Pratt played as if possessed. The Chaconne from Bach’s 15-minute Partita in D Minor for Violin, as transcribed by Busoni, became a mighty canvas under his hands. Each variation was keenly differentiated, to the final D which he made as big as he could, hampered only by the piano’s ultimate frustration vis a vis the violin, which is its limited ability to sustain a note once struck.