Pianist Walsh offers versatile program

Works by three composers early in their careers and a later work by another composer makes for a fas

After a seven-year absence, pianist Diane Walsh returned Sunday afternoon to Hubbard Hall to give an excellent recital before a large crowd of fans. The concert is Music from Salem’s fall initiative.

Walsh put much thought into what she wanted to play. She linked the composers by choosing compositions three of them had written early in their careers juxtaposed with a composer who had changed his stylistic voice and was then still in a transition phase. It made for interesting listening.

She began with J.S. Bach’s “Aria Variata, alla maniera Italiana,” which he composed at 25 and was only one of two sets of variations he’d written for keyboard — the “Goldberg Variations” being the other. Walsh said he wrote only 10 variations to the Goldberg’s 30 and that these were less ambitious. Perhaps, but all had Bach’s genius stamped on them with their clear but inventive ideas, which ranged over several different tempos, articulations and motific gestures.

After a slow, stately theme that Walsh played expressively, she moved into each variation, pausing only long enough to turn a page of music. Her technique was clean, pedaling was at a minimum, and pacing was constant.

She contrasted the Bach with George Rochberg’s Partita-Variations, which represented his shift from composing atonal/serial music to a more tonal style. After his teenage son died in 1969, he found he couldn’t express himself adequately with the old methods, so he turned to an almost Brahmsian palette, Walsh said. He died in 2005 at age 87. This piece was written during this transition period and was like an excursion through compositional styles with hints of Bach, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin and modern abstractions.

Walsh was in her element as each of the 12 variations was very different but she had no problems shifting gears from one style to another. Considering the complex technical demands and that this was only the second time Walsh had performed the work, there was no hesitation. Everything was met head on with ease and she expertly caught each variation’s quality. It was her flexibility that allowed the piece to seem more like a whole.

She put that versatility to a test also in Schumann’s “Papillons,” which he wrote at 21, basing it on a favorite novel. The work is very pictorial and tells of two brothers in love with the same woman and all attend a masked ball. There are the waltzes, the brothers wrangling over how to win her, a Polish polonaise (the girl was Polish), the ball’s atmosphere and finally dawn. These were all done in short sections that moved from delicate legato to sweeps of danceable melodies to strident commentary of big chordal passages to tightly articulated bars. Pacing was essential.

Walsh sailed along effortlessly detailing what each section required, making it easy to understand at what point in the story the music was. The crowd loved it.

For the final work, which she has recorded, she chose Schubert’s funereal Sonata in A minor. The three movements were dark, often featuring fast octave runs or heavy chords. These were balanced occasionally with lighter melodies in the high treble or sparkling fast runs. Walsh was in control throughout.

After a standing ovation, she played Schumann’s “Traumerei,” one of the most gorgeous tunes in the repertoire, with exquisite care and a loving touch.

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