MUSIC REVIEW : Boriskin's Engaging 20th-Century Sampler

Everyone present at Michael Boriskin's recital Monday night at the L.A. County Museum of Art could agree that there was something lacking: advertising for the event.

But if the small turnout in Bing Theater for the second of three of his so-called "Centuryview" concerts discouraged the hardly unknown, New York-based pianist, he didn't let on. Informally dressed, he merely invited those seated in the back to come down front.

He also proceeded to make a potentially forbidding and thorny program, a survey of 20th-Century works that explored "image in sound," a friendly opportunity to sample a few pieces we might have missed along the way. Creating the right atmosphere for this is no small feat, but Boriskin accomplished it easily with his casual yet illuminating spoken introductions, the clarity of his interpretations and the unforced quality of his considerable virtuosity.

Even so potentially forbidding a piece as Richard Danielpour's 1986 Sonata, a dissonant, nervous, pounding affair that the composer considered calling "Dark Night of the Soul," became engaging through the graceful but powerful athleticism of Boriskin's playing. No huffing and puffing here. He even turned his own pages.

He got to the meat of Carl Ruggles' four "Evocations" as well, capturing their grit, muscle and arch even while keeping voicings clear.

Perhaps it was the limited tone colors available on the Yamaha grand, or the pianist's sober thinking and straightforward manner, but pieces by Ravel--"Oiseaux tristes," "Piece en forme de Habanera" (in a transcription by Boriskin) and "Jeux d'eau"--and the post-Impressionistic "Rain Tree Sketches" I and II by Takemitsu emerged less convincing, though astutely prefaced and dispatched. Their perfumed essences seemed mostly to elude such head-on approach.

Aaron Jay Kernis' 1987 "Lullaby" proved both more rapturous and unsettling than its title would imply; and Poulenc's seldom-heard "Napoli" turned out not so "light" as Boriskin led us to expect beforehand, with its fast, acerbic "Barcarolle," substantial "Nocturne" and busy and driving "Caprice italien."

The final installment of Boriskin's "Centuryview"--also presented elsewhere in the United States and Europe--has been rescheduled here to March 20. In the pianist's words, "bring friends."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World