Lise de la Salle at the Phillips Collection
Saturday, January 28, 2017 at 09:01AM
Stephen Brookes

By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post  • January 16, 2017

Fresh off a brutal travel swing (Paris, New York, Bogata and Washington in two days), the gifted — and presumably well-caffeinated — French pianist Lise de la Salle took the stage at the Phillips Collection on Sunday afternoon for a program devoted to the terrors and joys of love.

A prodigy who made her concert debut at the age of 9, de la Salle has developed in her 20s into a musical thinker of impressive weight, with charm, imagination and a dazzling technique. And while all that was amply evident Sunday, it seemed to take de la Salle a while to settle into the emotional depth of the music. Opening with three transcriptions by Liszt of love songs by Schumann and Wagner, de la Salle turned in big, sweeping readings that, for all their virtuosity, felt rather dry-eyed — declamatory rather than seductive, lush but rarely rapturous, detailed but lacking in tenderness or mystery. Maybe it was just understandable exhaustion. But as love goes, it all felt a bit clinical.

Things warmed up noticeably in Schumann’s “Fantasie” in C, Op. 17, which opens with an impassioned love letter to his soon-to-be-wife, Clara. De la Salle seemed, for the first time that afternoon, to be playing from the heart, bringing emotional subtlety and personality to the work.

But de la Salle’s most impressive gifts — for narrative, dramatic structure and forceful, sharp-edged playing — may have been best revealed in the closing work of the program, Prokofiev’s “10 Pieces From Romeo and Juliet,” Op. 75. A reworking of the composer’s 1935 ballet, it traces the Shakespearean story from lighthearted opening to tragic end, and de la Salle gave it a psychologically astute, often mesmerizing reading. Richly colored, imaginative and emotionally searing (the dark ending tore mercilessly at the heart), it was a striking performance that won de la Salle a standing ovation.



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