The middle road does not always serve musicians best. Precise tempos, note-perfect playing, moderate dynamics—what’s not to like? Many a teacher would say as much.
And there is a lot to like. Andrew Tyson’s afternoon recital Tuesday at New York’s Merkin Hall—nearly sold out, a feat for any performance at such an hour—offered Schubert (the D664 sonata, the “easy” A major), three contrasting works by Chopin, the first book of Albéniz’ Iberia, and Liszt’s Rhapsodie espagnole. It was a well-conceived program, building in intensity, with color and style.
And Tyson plays with style—understated for sure, but crisp, well pedaled, and articulate precision. But much of the music left listeners wanting for more.
Schubert especially. A challenging concert opener, in the sense that it offers much emotion, perhaps before listeners and performers are quite up to it, Tyson seemed to struggle with concentration. “Wooden” would certainly be overstating his approach—he crafted many phrases with intelligence. But you could imagine a piano pedagogue saying to him afterward, “Those are the notes. Now let’s play the music.”
After hearing three diverse works from Chopin, one felt this should be a prerequisite for all piano recitals. A Nocturne, the E major from Op. 62. A Mazurka, the C-sharp minor from Op. 50. And the A-flat major Ballade. A brilliant range of challenges, firmly approached and well executed.
This up-to-now rather stolid program was altered quickly and decisively with the first book from Albéniz’s classic Iberia. The music won the day; the playing tried to keep up. Evocación was turned smartly, but the middle section, El puerto, saw Tyson’s left-hand vanish most of the way through. There is a lot in these melodies—color, energy, almost a fragrance—but not so much that the underpinning should be so totally neglected.
There were many nice moments in the third section, Fête-dieu à Seville, virtuosic and confident. Leading to an epitome of virtuosity itself, Rhapsodie espagnole. Here Tyson, creating a strong climax to his programming ideas, gave himself over to the excesses of the score, finally investing some risk-taking rubato, keying invitingly through trills, and while hardly pounding out chords, giving them a sense of drama.
Tyson next performs (according to his web site) Rachmaninov’s D minor concerto Jan. 27 and 28 with the Louisville Orchestra, Teddy Abrams conducting.