An electrifying option for upcoming season
Barnatan, Gaffigan collaborate in explosive debut
By CHARLES WARD , June 24, 2007

If the Houston Symphony's management has a slot to fill in its 2008-2009 season, it found an option in the two electric debuts Friday at Miller Outdoor Theatre.
Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan and conductor/Rice University graduate James Gaffigan collaborated on a program of Rossini, Mozart and Beethoven that I very much wanted to hear indoors to sense how good their music-making might be.
The pair offered two distinct musical personalities: Barnatan born to play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 with the elegance and intimacy that can make Mozart's music sparkle so much; Gaffigan to a lusty energy that made his opening work, Rossini's Overture to William Tell, viscerally intense.
The overture to Rossini's last opera (1829) is of course famous for the trumpet outburst burned into American culture as the theme for The Lone Ranger, but it has much more to offer musically.
The first item is the opening cello quintet, at the time a revolutionary use of the orchestra. A sweet cello solo leads the group, and principal cellist Brinton Smith played the melody with a suaveness that made me forget I was listening through the millions of transistors that make up a sound system today. (Friday there was nothing to kvetch about the amplification.)
Gaffigan led the orchestra through the following storm and pastoral scenes with deft assurance, and then launched into the trumpet fanfare and final section as if he couldn't get to that moment fast enough. He whipped the conclusion into a frenzy that had the audience yelling its approval.
Many pianists play Mozart with a reminder to the audience that they are tapering their power and technical wizardry to the smaller demands of the Classical-era composer. Barnatan left no such impression.
His light touch, elegant phrasing and occasional outburst of emotional accent seemed the only way he could play the Concerto No. 22 (though I'm sure that in other concertos he offers a showier bravado that would seem just as convincing).
Moreover, in the cadenzas Barnatan added intriguing freshness to his performance. The Concerto No. 22 is the only one for which Mozart left no written-out cadenzas (those solo show-off moments near the end of a movement). In Mozart's time, they often were improvised.
So, Barnatan adapted the ones of the legendary pianist Alfred Brendel, adding some of his own ideas and, in the third movement, throwing in a phrase or two borrowed from the cadenza of Mozart's pupil Johann Nepomuk Hummel.
Posted on 27 Apr 2010, 2:21 PM