By Lawrence Budmen

During his brief lifetime Franz Schubert (1797-1828) crafted a body of musical works that were emblazoned with the inspired footprints of genius. Few composers created music of such divine inspiration - a font of endless melody. The works of his last years show a new artistic maturity. Schubert's last major solo piano work - the "Sonata in B-flat Major," (Opus posthumous), D.960 - is one of the most inspired works in the keyboard literature - a plethora of melodic and harmonics wonders. The distinguished French pianist Philippe Entremont rose to the challenge of this formidable valedictory score at his recital for Sunday Afternoons of Music on January 16 at the UM Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables. 

Entremont has been a pillar of the international concert world for more than five decades. If experience breeds artistic wisdom, the autumnal serenity that Entremont brought to the lyrical Andante sostenuto of Schubert's sonata was the work of a deeply probing artist. He also brought lightness, Úlan, and beautifully sculpted phrasing to the delightful Scherzo: Allegro vivace con delicatezza. The final Allegro, ma non troppo is one of the most extraordinary pieces of music that Schubert ever wrote. Conceived on the outlines of a rondo, the reiteration of the principal themes keeps changing from major to minor. Beneath the Vienesse brio of this movement's thematic material, there is poignancy, even despair. Entremont captured the music's ambivalence. He masterfully encapsulated the score's surface elegance and its tragic subtext. A thoughtfully conceived performance of a remarkable score! 

Entremont has established a considerable reputation as a superb Chopin interpreter. Much of that idiomatic affinity was evident in his performance of Chopin's "Piano Sonata in B-flat Minor," Opus 35. Entremont certainly understands the Romantic turbulence and surging passion that underline every bar of Chopin's works. He was not always as technically agile as he was in his artistic prime. At times he approximated the composer's trills and pianistic effects. Nevertheless he daringly took the Scherzo at Chopin's notated (fast) tempo. Many younger pianists slow this movement down in order to articulate the note values more easily. Entremont delivered the real whirl wind passion that is pure Chopin. His furious rendition of the concluding Presto (Wind over the Graves) movement was no less impressive.

In Beethoven's heaven storming "Piano Sonata No.23 in F Minor," Opus 57 Entremont astutely judged the music's combination of fiery impetuosity and classicism. The Andante con moto was very broad; yet much inner pianistic detail was audible that often gets obscured. If the final Allegro, ma non troppo - Presto was less than perfect, Entremont still delivered the music with fiery abandon.

A gracious artist, Entremont responded to the large audience's standing ovation with an elegant performance of a Chopin Mazurka - a lovely encore indeed. His stylistic affinity for this music remains undiminished. Entremont's noble performance of Schubert's final keyboard masterpiece was the essence of the Romantic piano tradition!

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