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March 28, 2012

It was a cold and rainy night in San Francisco and Pierre-Laurent Aimard managed to make it pour and freeze indoors.

The French pianist's recital at The Herbst Theatre under the auspices of San Francisco Performances was so icy and insular that winter reigned in the gallery and stalls.

It was, of course, a technically accomplished performance, and full of subtlety and nuance. Enormous spaces of emptiness opened up in between the notes of the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag's Jatekok (Games,) a work composed of shard-like fragments that reminded me less of children's playful pursuits than a very lonely walk across a frost-scarred field on a chilly February morning.

Ensuing works by Kurtag (Splinters,) Schumann (excerpts from Bunte Blatter,) Liszt (Unstern! Sinistre, disastro and Les jeux d'eaux a la Villa d'Este) and Debussy (Preludes, Book II) continued in much the same introspective mood.

Dressed like a James Bond villain in a black, Chinese-collared pajama suit, Aimard stroked the keys of the Steinway grand with introverted reverence. He didn't utter a word during the performance and barely looked at the audience. But he did manage to smile semi-warmly when he took his bow at the end.  There was no encore.


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