- Jessica Balik
“Tao’s ability to get around a keyboard — with either nimble agility or pounding intensity as required — is something to marvel over. And both pieces, written by artists steeped in the 19th century tradition of the composer-pianist, are designed to show off those skills.
But Tao was never content simply to wow his listeners with rapid and impeccably executed scales and arpeggios, or to dazzle them into submission with ferocious chordal passages. Throughout both performances, he modulated his showmanship with graceful phrasing and elegant rhetoric.
The crystalline textures of the early variations in the Rachmaninoff, for example — an evocation of Paganini’s original piece that Rachmaninoff gradually fills in — found an echo in Tao’s pointed sonorities, blossoming into the luxurious lyricism of the famous 18th variation.
And Liszt’s ghoulish death-haunted romp, built around the tolling strains of the “Dies Irae” that also make an appearance in the Rachmaninoff, found Tao balancing the percussive energy of the main episodes with solo passages of suavity and almost eerie intimacy. The latter qualities came through again, in more concentrated form, in a gorgeous encore of Scarlatti’s A-Major Sonata, K. 208.”
“The young pianist Conrad Tao made a humble Lincoln Center debut last weekend, at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. (The center awarded him one of its Emerging Artist awards on Thursday.) But his performance did more to wake me up than the espresso served in the lobby. After closing the program with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 31, he played Scarlatti for an encore. As I was leaving someone said, “I thought he’d encore with the Carter” — meaning Elliot Carter’s “Caténaires” (2006), which Mr. Tao had played for The New York Times in a recent Facebook Live concert and interview. The brief and restless work is unapologetically virtuosic, with one continuous line (no chords!) passed back and forth between the right and left hands. But Mr. Tao puts the exact amount of weight on his left hand to achieve a Bach-like implied polyphony that gives the piece deceptive complexity. “More
“CONRAD TAO As part of the Crypt Sessions series, this adventurous young American pianist presented a compelling program called “American Rage” in the intimate crypt of a Harlem church. He gave blazing performances of Copland’s flinty Piano Sonata and two fiendish works by the maverick composer Frederic Rzewski that incorporate labor movement songs and anthems.”More
“Under the molten heat of the 23-year-old Tao’s genius, what seems in some hands to be little more than empty note-spinning was transformed into gold. No matter how rapid the passagework or how routine the phrase, Tao’s attentive mind found nuggets of passion, humor and beauty. The experience of hearing him play was one of astonishment.
Of his technique we need say little. It is perfect. Whatever can be done at the piano, he can do, whether it requires speed, delicacy, color or power, and always with an impeccable sense of style..
Having neglected to breathe for the 30 minutes of the performance, the audience leapt to their feet to convey their thanks to the soloist, who rewarded them with an interpretation of Domenico Scarlatti’s Sonata in A major K. 208, in which sunshine glinted in every trill and each modulation opened onto new vistas of beauty.”
“Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in D minor for the Left Hand begins mysteriously: Over the rumbling sound of double basses, Steve Vacchi entered with a wonderfully evocative contrabassoon solo, and soon woodwinds, horns, then the full orchestra joined in to reach a simmering crescendo until — Bam! — Tao dug vigorously into the first of the work’s two lengthy cadenzas.
There are certainly delicate passages in the single-movement concerto, which Tao delivered with sensitivity and nuance, but when the blustery, march-likes scherzo section begins, around the eight-minute mark, the dominant mood is one of insouciant brashness, and the pianist’s muscular assertiveness and razor-sharp clarity kept listeners enrapt… After intermission, Tao once again demonstrated the strength of a Marvel superhero and the grace of a ballet dancer, collaborating with the orchestra to deliver a fiery account of Franz Liszt’s Totentanz, a set of variations on the chant, Dies Irae.”
“What did we get from Tao? We got effortless action, frugality, simplicity, spontaneity, and Tao took compassion upon us by giving us an encore by Elliott Carter which showcased a terrifying technique.”More
“At the piano, Tao worked musical magic, finding in this early Mozart concerto a depth and structural sophistication—at least in the outer movements—that could easily be missed in its congenial cascades of scales and figuration. Some piano virtuosi use velocity and strongly defined articulation to flaunt their technical prowess, but I felt that Tao used his ample technical gifts to open up Mozart’s complex satisfactions that lurk beneath his glossy surface. The orchestra provided Tao equally spirited and polished complement throughout, and I particularly enjoyed the animated, wry dialogue between the soloist and orchestra in the final movement, the Rondeau di Menuetto.
For his encore, Tao played Elliott Carter’s 2007 “Caténaires,” a breathtaking etude of Lisztian ferocity and brilliance. Those of us who remember his prodigious performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto with the San Diego Symphony in 2015 were not at all surprised by this impressive display, but it proved astounding nonetheless.”