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12/15 Jean-Yves Thibaudet @ Carnegie Hall

I’ll just admit it up front: the reason I know about Jean-Yves Thibaudet is because I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice. Yes, it was that bit of pop culture that introduced me to this wonderful pianist. But, I’m happy to say, the same qualities that drew me to his playing in the soundtrack are just as admirable in his performance of classical repertoire. Mr. Thibaudet has a smooth, buttery sound that shimmers, particularly in the slow movement of songs. He plays each note and phrase with infinite care, truly crafting a piece from the music provided (I realized this as I tried to imitate his playing of the theme from Pride and Prejudice – I just could not play it with as much focus and poise as he did.) I was impressed last year when I heard  him play Gershwin’s Concerto in F with the New York Philharmonic, but I think his real realm is the recital, playing the piano like a symphony.

Tuesday he played a program of Ravel’s Miroirs and Pavane pour une infante défunte and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3, giving symphonic and yet nuanced accounts of all three works. The Pavane was reflective, not as much a dance as a reflection, a meditation on a long deceased princess. Miroirs was Thibaudet’s chance to shine, which he did with shimmering scalar passages, delicate melodies, and an enthusiastic, full reading of the famous Alborada, throwing himself into the chords. The chimelike quality of the last movement was also quite lovely. Thibaudet’s way of ending movements by leaving his hands on the piano and letting the last tones of the final notes ring and fade away gave a good indication of just how closely Thibaudet was listening to every note that he played.

The final piece on the program was Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3, an impetuous, youthful orchestral work that pointed strongly to the symphonies that were to come. Though some of the large fast sections sounded unsure in the first movement, the piece as a whole was given an exciting and thoughtful reading. The slow middle section was sublime, and the excitement of the finish was felt by the audience. Thibaudet was able to unify the lovely voicing and shimmering tones that characterized his playing of Ravel with the symphonic sounds and big chords specific to the Brahms. He finished the evening off with a stunning encore performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo Op. 118 No. 2, showing off the lyricism that is his true strength. Thibaudet is truly talented at making the piano sing, but in a complex voice all its own. His close attention to each note he plays certainly payed off in memorable, vivid accounts of each piece he played.

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