Andrew Brownell exhibited stellar pianism, playing an incisive and impeccable recital in Lincoln Recital Hall as part of the Portland State University Steinway Piano Series. Never flashy, never self-indulgent, Brownell just gave listeners a stellar real deal in a program that danced delightfully between pieces by Chopin, Ravel, Bach and Liszt. His playing was thoughtful yet packed with emotion and that transfixed the small but enthusiastic audience on Saturday (April 22).
Brownell warmed up listenerss ears with a set of Chopin pieces that were infused with charm and depth. He began with the Impromptu No. 2 in F-sharp Major and followed it with three mazurkas. His playing of the Mazurka in f-sharp minor (Op. 6. No 1) had just a hint of springiness while the Mazurka in c-sharp minor (Op. 6 No. 2) slid slightly to the melancholic side. The longer Mazurka in b-flat minor (Op. 24 No. 4) cut both ways, moving seamlessly from a flecks of happiness to shades of melancholy.
Also in playing Ravel's "Miroirs," Brownell demonstrated superb technique and artistry so that each of its five movements stood independently individually yet fit together. Sparkling passages and tricky rhythms contrasted outstandingly with somber and mysterious ones. The dynamics collided perfectly in “Alborada del gracioso” with its playful opening and serious second theme. The final movement, “La vallée des cloches," had a wonderfl enigmatic mood that drifted into the sunset.
After intermission, Brownell performed Bach’s “French” Suite No. 6 in E Major (BWV 817) exquisitely. Again, from one movement to the next he shifted from dance to dance with complete mastery, yet giving the piece as a whole direction and focus that took listeners to a final satisfying destination.
Brownell’s turned to Liszt for his final selections, starting with the “Soirée de Vienne” which seemed to roll effortless from the keyboard. Even the pauses were delicious to hear. He dove into the “Tarantella” from Liszt’s “Venezia e Napoli” with élan, showing absolute command of its many technical challenges - including notes that ran all over the keyboard at a very fast pace. All the while, he kept the spirit of the music free so that there was the feel of spontaneity. His performance was utterly amazing, and the audience erupted with applause in appreciation.
I don’t know how often Brownell can come to Portland to give recitals, but it will probably never be often enough. The good thing is that he is a native of Portland, and he will be moving from his current base in London to Austin, Texas this fall in order to join the piano faculty at the University of Texas. So, he should be coming up this way more often, and when he does, anyone who wants to hear incredibly excellent playing should hear him.