Andrius Zlabys and Adam Neiman at Dumbarton
Monday, February 28, 2011 at 03:02PM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • February 28, 2011

hen Frederic Chopin set off for a vacation in Majorca in 1838, he packed his mistress under one arm and a copy of Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" under the other. The Bach, at least, turned out to be a good choice of luggage: It became the inspiration for Chopin's astonishing set of 24 Preludes, Op. 28. Brief almost to the point of nonexistence - many are less than a minute long - they nevertheless lay bare aching depths of the human heart and, when played together, make up one of the most passionate, insightful works of the romantic era.

Adam NeimanBut what, exactly, do the Preludes have to do with Bach's more austere and exalting work? That was the question posed at Historic Dumbarton Church on Saturday night, when Andrius Zlabys and Adam Neiman aimed their pianos at each other and, alternating back and forth, juxtaposed the two. It was a thought-provoking evening, a sort of conversation between the baroque and the romantic, full of contrasts and unexpected connections. The contrasts were plentiful: Chopin's emotionalism against Bach's Olympian detachment; funereal brooding against serene optimism; poetic, improvisatory tone-painting against perfectly worked-out counterpoint. But over the course of the evening, it became clear that both composers were doing the same thing: probing deeply into the human experience, from two vastly different perspectives.

Both Neiman and Zlabys are accomplished pianists, but it was Neiman's account of the Chopin that made the evening. Zlabys seemed a bit off his game; in truth, he seemed half asleep, and turned in an adequate but lackluster performance. Neiman, on the other hand, brought fire and real imagination to the Preludes, delivering transparent, detailed and sensitive readings of virtually everything he played.

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