Washington Garcia. (source: washingtongarcia.com)

Review: Pianist Washington Garcia brings spring-like warmth to Spelman recital

William Ford | 26 FEB 2020

Spring can tease Atlantans in late February. The Bradford pears, pesky but beautiful, are already in bloom and some hillsides are starting to yellow-up with forsythia. Yet days of rain dampen the ground and the spirit. Even so, we humans can sometimes rise to the occasion and remind ourselves that the mud is temporary and the glory of a full flowering of spring is just around the corner. Last evening Washington Garcia brought some pianistic hints of the warmer days to come.

Garcia, the Ecuadorian-born director of the School of Music at the University of Nebraska Omaha, has a resume that, by itself, is mighty impressive, yet that would be hollow without the musical skill and ability to breathe life into music. Make no mistake, he is the total package: his musicality and technical skills were beautifully showcased last evening in a recital at Spelman College.

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Some of the greatest joys of a spring flower garden are familiar, e.g., the tulip and the daffodil. Garcia’s program was also full of the beauty of the familiar. He performed two Nocturnes of Chopin (Op. Posthumous, and Op. 27 No. 1); Beethoven’s famous Op. 27, No. 2 “Moonlight,” a Fantasia by Mozart (K. 397), and finally Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz.

There is probably no composer who understood the power of the piano to be graceful, warm, tender, and romantic better than Chopin. Yet all of that beauty arises from deceptively difficult-to-play music. Garcia was more than up to the challenge; his performances were staggeringly good.

The Beethoven was equally good. The first movement, Adagio sostenuto, is probably one of the most familiar in the piano literature, but here, it was fresh and alive. The third movement, Presto agitato, was bold, taking full advantage of the piano’s dynamic range.

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The original manuscript of Mozart’s 1782 Fantasia did not survive the composer and the final ten measures (or 10% of the work) were likely completed by August Eberhard Müller. The piece is a single multi-tempo movement. It is an elegant work not without its charms, but less riveting and melodic than the works of Chopin or Beethoven. Again, Garcia provided a very skilled performance.

Franz Liszt was a prolific composer and well- known for his virtuosic skill with the piano. It seems that over the last few decades, his music has fallen out of popular favor and it is not heard as frequently as it once was. In spite of this trend, the final work on the program was Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1. The composer wrote four, but the first is the most famous; it was originally written for orchestra and, as can be the case, the piano version gives a more percussive edge to the music than when it is played by a full-size symphony. Garcia’s performance was a bit slow and cautious. As interpreted here, the devil is a bit more of a gentleman than the music implies. Nevertheless, it was a skillful, if a bit low keyed, performance.

In all, this was a lovely recital by a first-class-musician. Like the frustrating hints of spring, more would have been even more wonderful! ■

William Ford is an avid classical music fan and a clinical psychologist based in Atlanta. His reviews and interviews can most frequently be found online at Bachtrack and www.atlantamusiccritic.com