Some pianists put an astonishing technique at the center of their expressive tool box. Einav Yarden is not one of them.
At her Philadelphia Chamber Music Society (and Philadelphia) debut Friday night, the Berlin pianist chose repertoire that certainly could have indulged a technical showoff: works of Schumann, Beethoven, Bartók, and even Haydn. Think back, for instance, to the incredible facility of Mitsuko Uchida in Schumann’s Fantasie in C Major, Opus 17, or András Schiff in the Haydn Fantasia in C Major. For them, incredible speed and ease are at one with interpretation.
Yarden played those same two works Friday, and though her personality was strong, she took a different tack. It was not one that always served the best interests of the music, but it’s the way she hears this material, and she takes it on with conviction.
Yarden — who has made a specialty of Schumann — ended her program with the sprawling Schumann Fantasie, not quite reaching the instant ecstasy with which the work opens. The interior moments of the first movement were lovingly rendered, and she made the bell strikes of the second movement ring beautifully. Taking the third movement as quickly as she did, though, robbed the long line of this music — the way it meanders and then reaches its climactic peaks with those big, bright chords. The quicker speed also drained some of the surprise from the near-final miraculous Wagnerian harmonic shifts.
But one can have these kinds of interpretive differences of opinion and still recognize a musical personality operating at a high level, which Yarden clearly was. She brought out Debussy-like colors in Bartók’s Three Burlesques (and she was never percussive). She was an ardent advocate for the sweetness in Schumann’s Three Fantasy Pieces. And in a relatively less-performed Beethoven sonata, the Opus 27, No. 1 in E Flat Major, the “Quasi una Fantasia,” the dramatic involvement was, though not unconventional in any way, highly personal.
Of the three Haydn works on the program, it was the Fantasia that was most intriguing. I did love her way with this hunting jaunt in which a clear sense of key sometimes slips away like elusive prey. She stretched the meaning of those long-held low notes to the point where you think the piece may have ended. Wait for it, her playing said, and then wait some more. Is the hunt over? Yarden is not one for spoilers, and that’s a good deal of her appeal.