Pianist Inon Barnatan Delights with Exquisite Mozart at Seattle Symphony

Inon Barnatan
The SunBreak

By Philippa Kiraly

It’s always a bit hair-raising for an arts organization when a soloist bails at the last moment, usually due to illness or injury. It happened last week, when an ailing Daniil Trifonov cancelled his performance of Scriabin‘s Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor with Seattle Symphony. It can be a scramble for the organization afflicted to find someone appropriate and free at the last minute, but the SSO was fortunate in that Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan was available and willing to come and pinch hit for Thursday and Saturday this weekend. He didn’t play the Scriabin. Instead he chose Mozart’s 23rd Concerto in A major.

This turned out to be one of those memorable performances for the listener. From the first moments, Barnatan’s light and considered touch on the keyboard promised an experience worth listening to. The reduced orchestra under music director Ludovic Morlot was in complete accord with him. While every note was given its due both in length and dynamic, even when reaching a forte, Barnaton played with relaxed release of each one, so that, in quick runs or legato, each had a shape for itself and within the phrase.

Barnatan seemed absorbed inside the music, his hands sometimes hovering above the note before creating its sound. It is not easy to play a nine-foot grand piano with its heavy action in depressing the keys and make it sound like the light, swift action and decay of a Mozart-era fortepiano. It takes strength and control to achieve that lightness on the modern instrument, and Barnatan did this with no seeming effort. The entire performance was musical and exquisite, a joy to hear.

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