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Music Reviews : Naumburg Winner Pratt Plays the Three Bs

If there are any doubts about competition winners these days, they are doubts about mental, rather than technical, proficiencies. Just in case, Awadagin Pratt dispels them all.

The 26-year-old pianist, winner of the 1992 Naumburg Piano Competition came to Ambassador Auditorium Monday night with a hugely challenging program before him, and then proceeded to conquer it, not so much with physical aggression, but with intellectual aggression.

No doubt about it, Pratt is a thinker. His performances, of music by Franck, Beethoven, Bach and Brahms, were meticulously thought-out affairs and just as carefully executed, but were never merely inward looking: He projected his thoughts with dramatic immediacy.

Each of the four works on his tightly knit program contained substantial fugues, three of them in the climactic position. No wonder. There is something on the line when Pratt attacks fugues. He plunges headlong into them, wrestles with, molds and builds them to urgent, muscular conclusion.

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Indeed, if the pianist has any significant faults it is that he almost never lets the music sing of its own accord.

Sitting throughout the evening on what looked like a small, low, wooden table, the dreadlocked musician played Franck’s potentially convoluted “Prelude, Choral et Fugue” with multifaceted poetry and clarity, in a closely argued yet rapturous account. Beethoven’s A-flat Sonata, Opus 110, emerged in tautly sculpted, almost claustrophobic phrasing, allowed to bloom only finally at the end.

Pratt offered a snappy, driven performance of Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 903, after intermission, and then a fully characterized, crisp and powerful reading of Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel to conclude.


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