Bryan Verhoye is a young pianist who intends to be taken seriously. His weighty recital Sunday at San Diego State University certainly was designed to display his keyboard prowess and earnest outlook.
After a polite reading of Beethoven's C-sharp Minor Sonata ("Moonlight"), Verhoye delivered with unrelenting drive Samuel Barber's craggy Sonata (1948) in neo-Classical style, Ravel's demanding "Gaspard de la Nuit," and Balakirev's splashy showpiece, "Islamey--Fantasie Orientale." This sophisticated bragging left the audience nearly as drained as the performer. Perhaps the 25-year-old pianist should not take himself quite so seriously.
It's not as though he had not jumped a few hurdles in his day and claimed his laurels--last spring he won a first prize in the Joseph Fisch piano competition held at SDSU. At times in Sunday's performance, however, this muscle-flexing was quite exhilarating. Barber's athletic fugue, the crown of his sonata, certainly sparkled under Verhoye's command, and the "Scarbo" in Ravel's "Gaspard" pulsed with demonic energy.
Still, it seemed that Verhoye was hiding behind these technical feats or was so engaged in digital demands that the audience received only hints of his own musical personality. Not surprisingly, these infrequent revelations occurred in the program's less frenetic moments. During the dark aria that is the third movement of Barber's sonata and in the middle movement of the Ravel, a certain anguish, a sense of foreboding, crept from beneath the notes.
Verhoye was content to allow the kinetic energy of most of the Barber sonata to carry him along, although just to memorize the beast is no mean accomplishment. His keyboard articulation was clean, and his linear textures showed a well-calculated sense of structure. In repeated notes, Verhoye's technique faltered, notably the opening of "Gaspard," which took a long time to achieve its impressionistic luminescence. And he failed to dominate the finale of the Beethoven sonata, playing over it rather than nailing its explosive cadenzas.
If only Verhoye could have had more fun with Balakirev's blockbuster--teased its pseudo-exotic salon harmonies and lingered knowingly over its decorous cliches. It was exciting playing, but at that juncture, Verhoye had generated a surfeit of excitement.
His appearance on the university's Sunday evening concert series drew a full house, although, with a preponderance of drafted music appreciation students, squirming and coughing, so great a number was not an unmitigated blessing.