Degree recitals have a rule book-but Philipp Richardsen, with a nod to the audience, threw it out the window for his Doctor of Musical Arts recital Sunday night and took us on a trip instead. He didn’t play the mandatory baroque and classical era pieces, and we didn’t hear a single sonata. Instead, he gave us a fascinating look at the range of possibilities for the piano, with everything from delicate cascades of arpeggios to wild dancing. So, what might have been a good academic concert became a great lesson in how far a piano can go into the wilds of passion.
Richardsen began with Beethoven’s six Bagatelles, Opus 126, his last work of any kind for solo piano and a characteristically introspective late work. Rather than write another fiery showpiece for his own instrument, Beethoven created a thoughtful examination of contrapuntal and harmonic ideas-and Richardsen explained them all to us, clearly and patiently, yet with rich intensity. The real fireworks came next, with two spark-filled Debussy tudes, followed by Jen Tak¡cs’s spectacular Konzertet¼de (Toccata No. 2). This extremely difficult work begins with a repeated pattern of quick notes leading to a huge crash, when Richardsen threw his arms on the keys. As the dissonant echo faded, the work’s clever motif began again, but we were ready to follow its strange harmonies wherever it led.
After the intermission, Richardsen broke our hearts. He began with two pieces by Enrique Granados, the Allegro de concierto and Escenas rom¡nticas. The first had a rumbling baritone melody accompanied by a choir of chords, but the Escenas stole the show. Granados, one of the great Spanish nationalist composers, wrote this descriptive work in six short movements, each interwoven with rich folk melodies. Richardsen played them all with sensitivity and enthusiasm, and we could hear the genuine depth of feeling beneath the surface of the work’s patriotism. He finished with another, very different nationalist piece, stor Piazzolla’s Tango Rhapsody “Adi³s Nonino,” the Argentine composer’s tribute to his grandfather. After a long, wistful introduction, the tango’s characteristic beat came through, but not for long. Piazolla’s explorations of this powerful dance form wander far off into difficult rhythms and odd dissonances, but Richardsen made sense of it all and brought us back home. After three curtain calls, he gave us one more-a Cuban flamenco that flashed and whirled. We felt like dancing, and we were all eager to hear more from this gifted pianist.