Big technique swamps little Raitt Hall

Special to The Times

At 21, Ohio-born pianist Orion Weiss cuts a charismatic, boyish, curly-headed figure -- reminiscent of the young Simon Rattle or Evgeny Kissin -- and he has a lengthy resume of competition victories and collaborations with celebrity musicians. He's got a big-league technique, and he seems to be used to brandishing it in big halls, playing out with all fingers blazing.

This, though, may not have been the best way to play in Pepperdine's tiny Raitt Recital Hall on Sunday afternoon, when a 9-foot Steinway can easily seem like a whale in a swimming pool. Very often, the piano sounded too loud, opaque and thick-set.

On this occasion, Weiss fiddled around with the order of works. He planned to stand tradition on its head by beginning with Bartok's "Out of Doors" and ending with J.S. Bach's Partita No. 4. By concert time, Weiss had switched to a more conventional path, leading off with a rather monotonous performance of the Bach, where the notes lacked character and could have used stronger dance rhythms. But the Bartok, which followed, was terrific, with plenty of driving, hammering clangor and a well-characterized, chirping "Musiques Nocturnes" movement.

After intermission, Weiss swapped Scriabin's Sonata No. 5 for the composer's more radical, more chromatically drifting Sonata No. 10, handling the tangles of trills and tremolos with flair. Schumann's Fantasy in C Major, Opus 17, might have been better placed right before intermission as originally announced, yet Weiss chose to end the program with it, turning on the bombast in the March but not making much poetry out of the concluding slow movement. The talent is there; just give it time to develop.

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