Greek pianist Vassilis Varvaresos gave a free concert Sunday as part of the Buffalo Chamber Music Society's series of "Gift to the Community Concerts." Audience members, who braved the blustery post-Thanksgiving winds, clearly loved the 21-year-old's performance as he alternated between slashing and caressing the keyboard while tossing his head back in open-mouthed interpretive passion. Loud applause and shouts of praise filled the air after nearly every work Varvaresos played, and a standing ovation at the end of the concert was proof of the crowd's admiration.
The program, which he performed from memory, was packed with warhorses by Ludwig van Beethoven (the "Moonlight" Sonata), Maurice Ravel ("Le Tombeau de Couperin"), Frederic Chopin (the Polonaise in C sharp minor) and Franz Liszt ("Hungarian Rhapsody" No. 2). For good measure, Varvaresos also included a demanding but less frequently played offering by Sergei Rachmaninoff (the "Corelli Variations").
Still, with all these things going for him -- an adoring audience, a prodigious technique, some interesting scores and a fairly charismatic stage presence -- it was hard to tell if Varvaresos will ever become a fully formed pianist, one of the great ones capable of subjugating technical prowess to the demands of art. The one thing he lacks (and it certainly isn't power) is the kind of subtlety that usually develops as really good musicians mature.
In the Beethoven piece, Varvaresos took the first two movements almost too deliberately, opting for stately (but square) over graceful, before tearing into the speedy and powerful final movement. The pianist seemed a bit more at home with the Ravel suite and the Chopin Polonaise, although his touch on the foot pedals alternated between abrupt and overlong. The performance of the "Corelli Variations" was somewhere between the extremes, a blend of energy, delicacy and near lethargy depending upon which variation was being played.
The last work on the program, Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" No. 2, benefited from Varvaresos' best overall performance of the afternoon. This piece needs an awareness of nuance to be fully successful but, for the most part, demands power and technique, qualities the pianist had in abundance. That Varvaresos managed to display, amidst the torrents of energy Liszt calls for from the pianist, a bit of delicacy here and there augurs well for the future.