Lise de la Salle’s Boston recital debut last night at Jordan Hall, presented by Celebrity Series, began with a genius at the keyboard expounding on Ravel’s Miroirs. Admittedly, her performance had me in tears, those that come with an awakening in life. Spasms of mirth, of sentimentality, and of nobility inherent in the Frenchman’s score were everywhere evident and at times rendered forth in the boldest, most remarkable power I have yet to encounter. The 23-year old de la Salle — yes! — delivered an incomparable message of piano passion and personality.
Surprisingly and disappointingly, that same passion and personality that she brought to the Ravel she also brought, and relentlessly so, to a selection of Debussy’s preludes. Ravel and Debussy are two completely different creatures. Naturalist and pundit on ancient Greek lore, Debussy could not withstand the overt, nearly romanticized deportment the young pianist was intent upon in redefining this composer’s character.
During intermission I found, not surprisingly, that I was not alone in my assessment of the first half of Lise de la Salle’s unveiling. At least for a few more concert-goers, elation also had turned to consternation. After her audacious performance of Beethoven’s Les Adieux, I began wondering what she would bring to the opening movement of the “Moonlight Sonata.” Romanticized it was not, modernized, yes: faster, more impersonalized and declarative, without cantabile.
Obviously, far too much power prevailed throughout the evening. (Is this the New Age, and am I falling behind?) Velocities to extremes were also in play, most startling so in de la Salle’s delivery of Debussy’s Feux d’artifice and Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest. In her first encore, the third movement from Bach’s Italian Concerto, scale passages morphed into glissandos. His sequential passages whizzed by, making the whole sound as if it could have been the perfect soundtrack to a cartoon. Two other encores followed: a Chopin nocturne and a Schumann Kinderszenen selection.
Truthfully, I like to root for the young, even more so for those who dare to take chances, go out on a limb in search of freshness, new life. In an interview that aired quite a few years ago, Broadway man Stephen Sondheim disclosed a few words for the wise, “I try to write music that is fresh yet inevitable.” So, I wonder, how do ratcheted power and velocity apply to this syllogism?
For Noctuelles and Une barque sûr l’ocean, de la Salle opted for tempos slower than most, or, given her prodigious piano agility, maybe it just seemed to me to be so. Ravel’s tempos, assez vif (rather fast) and plus lent (slower) for Alborado del gracioso felt fiery flamenco, leaving me breathless. And in this Spanish vista came the climax of the entire suite — with piano power, passion, and personality; all from hands smaller than you might expect! Les oiseaux tristes — unspeakable enrapture from the opening simple and quiet two-note calls to the sudden shock of a flock of fiercely chattering birds. Lise de la Salle neutralized the chimings in La vallée des cloches to close Miroirs on a middle ground, an ingenious move.
Last-minute changes on the program, the first, a reordering of the six Debussy preludes that made its way into an insert, the second, de la Salle herself announcing that the “Moonlight” would follow rather than precede Les Adieux. As you watch Lise de la Salle sitting at the keyboard, you cannot miss fingers, hands, arms, shoulders, back, and face enveloped in a creative surge. Could the creative urge be that which also dictated the shifts?