Andre Watts March 23, 2011
Andre Watts in Command at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
I am not worthy to review the scintillating concert performed by the great pianist Andre Watts last week at the Center. It really was a “you had to be there” kind of an evening because the performance had a truly transcendent quality that defies the human word. Also Watts is simply a genius whose abilities exceed the grasp of mere mortals like me. There were layers of meaning and such abundance of musical texture to the concert that it would take a professor of composition to come close to doing the whole performance justice. Well, maybe a few humble words on such magnificent work will catch some of the light shone from Watt's beacon on that night.
It was completely appropriate that this was an all-Lizst program since that composer has risen and fallen and risen again on the fingers of great artists. Once upon a mid-19th century time Franz Lizst was considered a genius and almost a saint, evidenced by the actual term Lizstomania that peaked around 1842 but remained strong for over a century. Then the circling buzzards of criticism had to pick at the legacy of this towering figure but his compositions speak for themselves when played by the right hands. In the hands of Andre Watts the Lizst legacy is shining bright but it is only an artist with his intelligence coupled with vastly superior technical skill and a passionate belief in the music that can properly showcase such demanding material.
Andre Watts did not waste any time in the full ninety-plus minutes with lesser material but went right for the biggest challenges and greatest rewards. He warmed with “Concert Etude No. 3, Un Sospiro” which was a country mile from the “sigh” in the title, roaring up and down the big Steinway piano, dynamically filling the hall while crossing his hands on the keyboard and sending arpeggios winging to the back wall of the Center. Hungarian Rhapsody No. 3 in B-flat major” was rhythmic and complex with flavors of the folk music inspirations drawn from gypsy czardas that so influenced Lizst. The “Sonata in b minor” was, as close to the Romantic tradition we know with tones that ranged from glowering menace to delicate beauty. These pieces took tremendous physical power, endurance and amazing control, ranging from hugely dramatic to very delicate expressions.
After a short intermission Watts gave a us more of the great variety in Lizst’ piano compositions, ranging from the modernistic tonal ambiguity of “Bagatelle Ohne Tonart” to the mournful “La Lugubre Gondola” to the troubled angst of “Schlafos, Frage and Antwort.” “Transcendental Etude No. 10 in f minor” may be the hardest to describe because it was just a musical decathlon of technical demands and range of emotion. The final pieces on the program were from “the Six Grand Etudes After Paganini” which are transcriptions of violin compositions that were wonderfully lyrical and then just filled with pyrotechnics that took the listener to the melodic edge. These are some of the most demanding pieces in all of piano literature but Watts just commanded the keyboard in every shade of expression and thrilled the audience to an honest to goodness ecstasy. He was summoned out for a romantic encore, more Liszt and more raving, standing ovations for a job done better than it can ever be described.