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Young Swedish pianist Per Tengstrand concluded a five-day mini-residency at the University at Buffalo with a recital that was framed by two of the most daunting sonatas in the standard piano repertoire.

Tengstrand is a very engaging performer, obviously very serious about his art, but informal enough to make a personal connection with audience members and to make them want to like his playing.

This was perhaps most evident in his announcement of the evening's lone encore.

"It was written by my friend Niklas Bjarnehall," he said, "and dedicated to my then-girlfriend. But she ran off with a trombonist, and now the piece has no name. So tonight I'm dedicating it to all the ladies in the audience."

The no-name piece was short and light, almost of movie-music ambience, but its winsome romantic flavor went down well after the monumental Liszt Sonata in B minor with which Tengstrand had concluded the formal recital.

The Liszt Sonata can appear very fragmented in less than skilled hands. But Tengstrand, while perhaps dwelling a bit more intently on the music's introspective aspects than its fireworks, still carved a clear overall shape and interpretation. And when it came to the rockets and Roman candles, Tengstrand's extraordinary technique gave him the tools to sail through the brilliant octaves, the fearsome staccato passages and the difficult fugato with accuracy and apparent ease.

It was a generally clean-lined performance in which the tendency toward lightness kept the music from ever getting saccharine or posturing, which is a risk in this sonata. The remarkable clarity of Tengstrand's playing may have been bought at the expense of a bit of depth, but at the same time it was giving us a very enlightening view of the work's extremely complex structure. The ovation at the end was well deserved.

Oddly, Tengstrand seemed less comfortable in the opening "Appassionata" Sonata by Beethoven. In the stormy first movement, the powerful chords seemed clangorous but not particularly cleanly voiced, and in the rather skewed balance the leading tones, even the lyrical line, often became unclear. The playing seemed to vary between extremes: fussy and emotionally unbridled.

My idea of Beethoven's intentions got back on track in the slow movement, where the chordal progressions were secure and logical, leading the ear and the heart into the music's inner workings.

And in the fiery Finale, the recitalist found the clarity that was lacking in the first movement, shaped the movement well and concluded with a strength and commitment that made the earlier problems even more puzzling.

Five of Grieg's "Lyric Pieces," Op. 43 were an excellent choice to follow the "Appassionata." Tengstrand played "Lonely Wanderer" and "Erotik" as the second and fourth selections in the group, with the flitting delights of "Butterfly" in the center. A tenderly phrased "In the Native Country" opened the group, which closed with the flitting treble chords over an expansive melodic line which characterize "To Spring."

These are beautiful pieces that have not found continuing favor with pianists. Of the recent big names, only Rubinstein kept them in his repertoire.

Tengstrand turned to his countryman Rolf Martinsson's "LEO" (the title was not explained) to open the second half of the program . It's basically a skittering atonal presto, with an odd quotation from "The Ride of the Valkyries" sneaked in, capricious in character and brief enough that the tonal ambiguity did make it pall in the listening.


Pianist Per Tengstrand

Guest on Slee Visiting Artist Series

Saturday evening in Slee Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus.

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