There’s a world out there of audience-pleasing showy pianists (Lang Lang, perhaps, being their current flag bearer) and another, smaller universe of “pianists’ pianists” (Richard Goode comes to mind) whose cerebral performances focus on musical and technical subtlety. Joaquín Achúcarro, who brought a short but beautifully chosen program to the Phillips Collection on Sunday has a foot planted firmly in each camp.


At 72, the Spanish pianist might be expected to have mellowed a little, but the power of the opening declamation of the Bach-Busoni C Major Toccata and the roar of the Albeniz “Navarra” that ended the program emphatically set that expectation straight (and, in choosing the Scriabin “Nocturne” for left hand alone as a encore, he displayed an unabated fearlessness).


In between, Achúcarro explored the myriad colors that are only conjured up from a great piano in the hands of a great pianist. The Brahms E-Flat Major “Intermezzo” Opus 117 No. 1 flowed with a perfectly balanced legato touch. Three of Debussy’s Book 2 Preludes spoke vividly with passion and light, and the “Maid and the Nightingale” by Granados sounded almost painfully intimate. In Albeniz’s “Tango” and “El Puerto” (from “Iberia”), Achúcarro found ways to make emphatic attacks without any edginess and, throughout, he managed to time the dying-off of final chords to perfection. Achúcarro is a teacher (at Southern Methodist University in Texas) and that showed as he spoke about several of these pieces, putting them in a context for the audience that, clearly, has informed his own thinking.


The concert was presented in collaboration with the Embassy of Spain and the Joaquín Achúcarro Foundation which supports the careers of young pianists.

— Joan Reinthaler, Washington Post
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