By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Bennett Lerner is a vivid tone painter. Long noted as a champion of American composers, Lerner is recording the complete piano music of Claude Debussy and that French master’s impressionistic keyboard oeuvre comprised the major part of his recital on Sunday for the Miami Civic Music Association. 

One of the afternoon’s most riveting moments came when Lerner was joined by UM Professor Rosalina G. Sackstein for the two piano version of one of his American specialties – Aaron Copland’s Danzon Cubano. The harmonics in this 1942 score still sound remarkably contemporary. One can easily imagine John Adams writing in the same dissonant nationalistic style. The piece is quintessential Copland – a Latin beat filtered through the composer’s Americana lens. Lerner and Sackstein gave a bracing performance of this wonderful two piano reduction of the orchestral score. Rhythmic energy and cascading jazzy riffs literally flowed from the Gusman Hall stage. 

Lerner and Sackstein also played Las Ninas by Carlos Gustavino, the South American Scott Joplin. This lovely vignette was replete with the perfumed elegance of a 19th century musical salon. 

A pupil of Claudio Arrau, Lerner is a master of tonal coloration. His superb traversal of Debussy’s late Etudes displayed his formidable agility and wide coloristic spectrum. Lerner’s brilliant finger work on the opening fantasy on a Czerny etude dazzled the ear. Gorgeous pastels and hazy impressionistic sound portraits flowed from the keyboard in the central section of the decorative Ornaments. In the concluding Sonorities etude, Lerner’s sound compass embraced the voluminous richness and instrumental hues of a symphony orchestra. 

Lerner brought splendid musicality and an imaginative interpretive vision to Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. The Prelude had startling modernity. Lerner brought incisive rhythm and poetic sparkle to the Menuet. Clair de Lune was refreshingly unsentimental with a flowing pianistic line that produced a fountain of coloristic effects. L’Isle Joyeuse had the perfect big boned combination of impressionistic gauze and irrepressible romantic passion.

As an encore, Lerner offered Golliwog’s Cakewalk from Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite. He vividly conveyed the sly wit and music hall insouciance of this delightful bon-bon with a French accent.

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