Piano music written by Frederick Chopin and Claude Debussy is more alike than some people may think, and Stephen Manes' program Tuesday night did a lot to prove that.
The former chairman of the University at Buffalo's music department returned to the school for a well-played and well-constructed concert before what amounted to a full house in Lippes Concert Hall on the North Campus. The works heard seemed tailor-made to highlight the similarities between the two composers.
Manes constructed seamless little suites from the first four of Chopin's opus 28 Preludes, two excerpts from Debussy's First Book of Preludes ("La Cathedral engloutie" and "Ce qu'a vu le vent d'Ouest") and, in the second half of the concert, Debussy's three "Estampes." The blending of both composers' preludes was especially interesting in how they meshed together, perfectly logical in hindsight if not foresight.
It would appear, however, that Manes has more of a kinship with the constantly shifting soundscape provided by Debussy. While his Chopin interpretations in the first half were more than acceptable, they seemed to be harder-edged, an approach that lessened the vulnerabilities of the Preludes although the playing in Chopin's "Berceuse" and "Barcarolle" later in the set were fine enough.
In the second set, Manes' take on "Clair de Lune" was magical and his approach to Chopin's opus 49 "Fantaisie" was powerful yet subtle. As the final notes of "L'isle joyeuse" rolled out into the hall, the audience erupted into a well deserved standing ovation. Manes then took two encores, playing a pair of Chopin scores, an F minor mazurka and the "Revolutionary Etude" (op. 10, no. 12).
Pianist performs the work of Chopin and Debussy. Tuesday evening in Lippes Hall at Slee Hall, University at Buffalo North Campus, Amherst.