Hungarian pianist Janos Balazs came to the College of St. Rose Friday night and conquered. It was a memorable evening.
Playing before a large, hugely supportive crowd, Balazs, 22, made his auspicious American public debut in a program of some of the most famous works by Chopin and Liszt.
Everything he performed showed the joy he gets in playing piano. He was dramatic, passionate, focused, intense, and displayed an often electrifying technique, a varied dynamic palette, and a bold style. He varied his tone from a big, overpowering blast to a feathery light and delicate lace. Most of all, he showed an imaginative sense of pace, nuance, phrasing and the kind of push-and-pull rubato so necessary for both these composers.
The first half belonged to Chopin, the second to Liszt. He began with the "Fantasie Impromptu," Op. 66, C-sharp minor, followed by three waltzes (C-sharp minor, B minor and E-flat Major), and the Polonaisie in A-flat Major ("Heroic") that showed off his easy technique, musical phrasing, drama and strong flair. The waltzes were especially atmospheric: C-sharp minor was thoughtful and coaxing; B minor was sad but hopeful and the E-flat was bold yet poetic. The only criticism was an overuse of pedal that blurred the notes and muddied the impact.
Then, Balazs began to relax. By the time he got into the Polonaise, he'd reduced the amount of pedal, which allowed everything to be heard. His trills were tight, his phrase endings sparked, and his chords thundered as he attacked the keyboard with fervor. The Nocturne in C-sharp minor was contrastingly melancholic, eloquent and thoughtful with a sweet longing.
The Andante spianato flowed with sunny subtlety, a feathery light touch and a taunting delicacy. As it moved into the grand polonaise section, he became more fiery with sensuous phrasing and ended in grand style. Interpretively, Balazs was excellent.
All of the Liszt pieces were done with a marvelous control and an easy, effortless technique. He captured the romance, the joy, the laughter with phrasing that showed he'd spent much time thinking about what he wanted to do.
“Widmung,” a Schumann work Liszt arranged, was well felt and very romantic with expertly built drama. Balazs was exalted as he spun out the beautiful themes of “Liebestraeum” No. 3. Streams of notes that sounded like a waterfall and tremolos so fast were the highlights of “Les jeux deaux a la Villa d’Este.”
“La Campanella” with its rippling technical demands was child’s play for Balazs and the explosive Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 got a full braggadocio treatment. The crowd jumped to its feet with cheers and whistles and got two more explosive numbers: an arrangement of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 and Liszt’s version of an aria from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.” After Balazs received a St. Rose sweatshirt in remembrance, the crowd rushed to buy the remaining Balazs CDs.