From NY Times
March 17, 2005


The Piano Recital as Theater, With Song, Speech and Cries

Every performing musician has to be a bit of an actor. But the pianist Anthony de Mare actually is an actor, as well as a dancer and a singer.

Four years ago he presented a compelling semiautobiographical multimedia piece in New York, "Playing With Myself." The program incorporated performances of piano works, songs and some dance sequences into acted episodes depicting a young man whose exploration of his anguished longing culminates in a transforming romantic encounter at a gay nightclub.

So it's no surprise that at Zankel Hall on Tuesday night, on his recital program titled "Gotham Glory," a celebration of New York City, Mr. de Mare was at his best in Frederic Rzewski's "De Profundis" (1992). This is a stunning 30-minute work for solo piano that combines Mr. Rzewski's ferocious, gritty and at times dreamy piano music with speaking and singing of texts adapted from Oscar Wilde's harrowing essay from prison.

Mr. de Mare's performance involved a mesmerizing array of sounds: vocal sighs, cries, barks and growls, as well as some horn-honking and percussive tapping of the closed wooden cover of the keyboard. Mr. Rzewski wrote the work with Mr. de Mare in mind, and after abandoning an attempt to perform it from memory, Mr. de Mare returned onstage with the score, started over and performed "De Profundis" as if he owned it.

The rest of his formidable program was devoted to some technically challenging contemporary piano works, including premieres by Paul Moravec, Jason Robert Brown, David Del Tredici and Fred Hersch. Several of these scores pushed Mr. de Mare's pianistic skills to the limit. Perhaps his attempt to turn the contemporary piano recital into "concert theater," as he calls his explorations, is taking a toll on his technique.

Mr. Del Tredici's "Gotham Glory" suffered the most from Mr. de Mare's struggles. In this suite of four pieces, the composer continues his recent preoccupation with exploring the aesthetic and sound of Romantic piano music, especially that of Schumann and Liszt.

His idea is to put a radical spin on the Romantic style, to come up with something that sounds like discombobulated and mystically modern Liszt. But ideally the music should be performed by a Lisztian virtuoso. Though Mr. de Mare made a valiant attempt, his playing was stiff and inelegant. The unimaginative videos by Anney Bonney that accompanied the performance added little.

Mr. de Mare did better in Mr. Hersch's melancholic and jazzy "Saloon Songs" and in Meredith Monk's "Gotham Lullaby," a short, tender work in which Mr. de Mare accompanied his earthy vocals with undulant rolled piano chords.

Mr. Brown's four-movement "Mr. Broadway," with its volatile mood swings, showed that this acclaimed composer of musical theater scores has a keen ear for astringent contemporary harmony. Mr. Moravec's exuberant "Isle of the Manhattoes" also needed a more commanding performance to have its full impact.

You want to root for Mr. de Mare as he tries to loosen the protocols of the concert experience. But piano playing must come first in a piano recital. Mr. de Mare may need to practice more.