Classical Music Guide - Thursday, July 24, 2014 - Written by Donald Isler

Akiko Ebi

Schumann: Fantasy in C Major, Op. 17
Takemitsu: Rain Tree 2
Nocturne in F Major, Op. 15, No. 1
Nocturne in B Major, Op. 62, No. 1
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23
Waltz in A Minor, Op. 34, No. 2
Tarantella in A-Flat Major, Op. 43
Ballade No. 3 in A-Flat Major, Op. 47
Scherzo No. 2 in B-Flat Minor, Op. 31

A wonderful exponent of the grand Romantic style of pianism is the Japanese pianist, Akiko Ebi, who performed last night. Though she is capable of pulling out all the stops in big dramatic works, what impressed me over and over during this program was the incredible subtlety and beauty of her playing in soft and intimate music.

Although her performance of the first movement of the Schumann Fantasy began, appropriately, with the grand gesture, it was the gentle parts of much of the rest of the movement that particularly drew my attention. The second movement was alternately assertive and playful, and the pianist did not take the easy way out when it came to the difficult coda; she played it fast, and still got all the difficult jumps. As if preparing to tell a tale, Ms. Ebi played the introduction to the main theme of the third movement, and then the theme itself with heartfelt expression. She stretched out the coda so effectively that one was, indeed, loath to part with this music. At the conclusion of this first work the audience greeted Ms. Ebi with the first of many “Bravas!”

Ms. Ebi concluded the first half of the recital with Takemitsu’s Rain Tree 2, a lovely, lyrical and exotic miniature which ended with (as the artist played it) an astoundingly soft low D.

Ms. Ebi was in her element in the second half of the program, playing works by Chopin. She does not sound like any other pianist, but, by definition, a Romantic pianist is a unique individual. And her understanding of the style of this music is such that her interpretations were always convincing, particularly concerning her use of rubato. Often she was all over the place, rhythmically, but always where she SHOULD be! A few high points:

The aforementioned rhythmic flexibility and gorgeous playing of the B Major Nocturne’s theme, when it returned with continuous trilling, and the coda.

The lively playing of the Tarantella, and the way she poured on the intensity and speed at the end.

The manner in which Ms. Ebi handled the poetic aspects of the last two big works, then ended powerfully.

But If I had to pick one piece, the performance of which was more “special” than any other, it would be the A Minor Waltz. I was reminded of the great Chopin pianist, Moritz Rosenthal, not because Akiko Ebi sounds like him, but because he interpreted everything in the score. That does not mean he imposed anything on the music, but that he found something to say with, or through every bit of it. There was no “down time” or filler space in his interpretations. Likewise, as Ms. Ebi played this Waltz there was constantly something beautiful, even magical happening. Quite amazing!

Ms. Ebi played two encores, also by Chopin, the Berceuse, and a particularly expressive Aeolian Harp Etude.

The audience reacted with enthusiasm, affection and admiration.

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