Chilean pianist Pola Baytelman, who has been an artist-in-residence at Skidmore College for at least 20 years, gave an interesting recital Thursday night at Zankel Music Center.
Baytelman used three different instruments: an 1826 Conrad Graf fortepiano, a prepared grand piano and a flashy, 3-year old Steinway grand. Just the color differences alone among the pianos made for entertainment.
She began with three Domenico Scarlatti sonatas and two sonatas from one of his possible pupils, Father Antonio Soler. Although these were written for harpsichord, Baytelman said playing them on the fortepiano “intrigued and delighted” her. The Scarlatti sonatas (in E Major, C Major and D minor) were given subtle dynamics, tender phrasing that came awfully close to romantic and some vigorous moments. But the use of the pedal or damper clouded the clarity of the technical runs.
Soler’s sonatas (in D minor and D Major) had some of his teacher’s penchants for trills and the form, but he also made use of the classical era’s figurations, ala Mozart and Haydn.
The three Schubert “Moments Musicaux” (Nos. 1, 3 and 5) and his German Dances from Op. 33 (Nos. 10, 5 and 4), which were written for the instrument, sounded like they belonged. The degree of pedal was appropriate, as was the level of transparency, so everything kind of fit.
Baytelman was especially effective in the German Dances — all waltzes. She played them with a wonderful lingering touch that could be frothy, bittersweet or extroverted.
Her touch was much more sure in the second half. She opened with George Crumb’s “A Little Suite for Christmas A.D. 1979,” which had her plucking or tamping the strings or doing glissandos to produce effects that amplified the rest of the score. The music still sounds fresh after so many years, and Baytelman gave a convincing performance.
Mendelssohn’s “Variations Serieuses” (1841) is a marvelous work of 17 darkly dramatic and very beautiful but virtuosic variations. Baytelman was terrific and played with strong technique, spare pedal and much passion.
She was equally electric on Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera’s “Milonga” (1948), with its tango-like rhythms and insinuating melodies, and the three dances from “Danzas Argentina,” which Ginastera wrote during his student days. With their exotic colors, polyrhythms and polytonalities — one had the left hand playing the black keys and the right hand playing the white — they’re like a bouillabaisse.
Baytelman showed great flair and used wonderfully weighted chords, flamboyant energy, a confident technique, and a boisterous edge. The crowd loved it and gave her a standing ovation.