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Music Review

A skillful touch, albeit relaxed

Dubravka Tomsic first played at Symphony Hall in 1991. Dubravka Tomsic first played at Symphony Hall in 1991.
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By David Perkins
Globe Correspondent / April 21, 2008

When Dubravka Tomsic was called back for her fourth encore Friday night, her eyes were gleaming with tears. The pianist has been favorite of Boston audiences since her first recital at Symphony Hall in 1991. She has been back often, in recital and with the BSO, and her Jordan Hall concert in the Celebrity Series of Boston had the worshipful aura of a great operatic diva's return. She played generously, long and beautifully. And she was generously received.

Tomsic plays with enormous strength, beautiful articulation, a sense of style (though it is generally one style), and a relaxed command that says she has nothing left to prove. She is the antithesis of Martha Argerich, who seems always to be searching for something unrealizable and leaves you in a state of nervous exhaustion.

At 68, Tomsic has a long career behind her, but she seemed to gather strength with playing. After a difficult program of Mozart, Scarlatti, Prokofiev, Srebotnjak, Brahms, and Beethoven, she offered four encores: more Scarlatti, Villa-Lobos ("Le Polichinelle," a favorite encore of her mentor, Artur Rubinstein), Chopin (the C-sharp minor Waltz), and J.S. Bach (a Prelude arranged by Alexander Siloti). She fudged only a few notes, and there were a lot of notes.

Often one wished for more imagination and searching. The Adagio in B minor, K. 540, of Mozart, for example, had everything one loves in great Mozart playing - a singing line, graceful phrasing, and the ability to weigh chords beautifully - but it is a strangely repetitive work, and she did not vary the color or emphasis with each return of the main subject. The four Scarlatti sonatas, all in his faster mode, were played joyously. The runs were sometimes just a bit blurry (Tomsic is not above using the pedal to help in difficult passages), and she did not underline, with artful rubato, the suspense of the wonderful harmonic shifts. (Horowitz could make these works as gripping as murder mysteries.)

Coming to Prokofiev's Sonata No. 3, Tomsic threw herself at the piece, thrilled with her thundering left hand, and found patches of blue sky that others miss. A set of Macedonian Dances by Tomsic's husband, Alojz Srebotnjak, were pleasing, well made, and faintly derivative of Debussy, de Falla, and others. She drew out the sweetness in several Brahms Intermezzi, generally glancing over darker undercurrents. The Rhapsody in E-flat major had power, nobility and pace.

Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata is a favorite work she played on her first Boston recital 17 years ago. Tomsic lightened her touch and produced a beautiful sound from Jordan's buzzy-in-the-treble Steinway. She seemed to want to make this tormented, half-crazy piece a smooth, enjoyable experience. She conquered the difficulties, sometimes splendidly; but she gave no edge to the neurotic detail, the abrupt leaps, dangerous falls, the ostinatos and idées fixes. It's a half-crazy piece, and Tomsic, while a great pianist, is not good at suffering.

Dubravka Tomsic

Presented by Celebrity Series of Boston

At: Jordan Hall, Friday

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