Pianist Gilles Vonsattel, assistant professor in the department of music and dance, performed June 5 at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery in conjunction with “Master of the Night,” an exhibit of woodblock prints by the 19th-century Japanese artist Kobayashi Kiyochika.
Vonsattel played music by Western composers that would have been performed in late 19th-century Japan, including Beethoven’s Bagatelles op. 126 and “Moonlight Sonata,” three preludes and fugues by Bach, and Schumann’s Arabeske in C Major, op. 18, and Fantasy in C Major, op. 17.
The pianist’s treatment of the “Moonlight Sonata” was lauded by Washington Post reviewer Stephen Brookes, who wrote, “Its famous first movement has suffered no end of sappy interpretations, but Vonsattel brought out a more probing, somber, even funereal side in a performance that was often spellbinding. The second movement was oddly polite, and the final movement might have used a little more wild-eyed ferocity. But you got the sense that Vonsattel is more interested in ideas than in stormy passion, and more power to him: This is a thinking person’s pianist.”
Brookes was also impressed by Vonsattel’s “refreshingly full-blooded approach to the works, delicate and precise” of two Debussy compositions.