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Trudel gives a virtuosic piano performance

By Gilbert Mott (contributing writer)
Posted: 02/12/2009 05:46:22 PM EST

Rachmaninoff's 24 preludes are distributed among three opus numbers but they form a coherent whole. Like Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier" (though without the fugues) they explore all 24 major and minor keys. By turns lyrical and explosive, they are virtuosic miniatures that challenge a pianist's technique and musicality. The Canadian-born pianist Eric Trudel played them in recital at the Bridgewater Congregational Church on Sunday and proved to be up to the challenge.

The "Prelude in c # minor," opus 3 No. 2, was a youthful work that helped make the composer's reputation. A touring virtuoso himself, Rachmaninoff played it as an encore so often that he grew heartily sick of it. Trudel's playing of it set the tone for his recital. He took a rather expansive tempo and the falling motif took on a character of wistfulness rather than the trump of doom that one often hears in it. Though he never lacked for power, introspection rather than flashy display was the quality one took from Trudel's playing.

The 10 preludes of opus 23 filled out the first half of the program and the 13 of opus 32 took up the second half. Trudel, who is active both as a recitalist and vocal coach, supplied thoughtful program notes that gave his own slant on each of the pieces, a welcome and very personal explication of how the pianist approaches them. The piano sound in the small church was bright but never harsh.

There were many moments to savor along the way. opus 23 No. 1 was songful and moody, paced expertly to its last dying chord. Trudel played the "tempestuous" (his word) second prelude of the set with great rhythmic freedom and flexibility and a big sound. Some smudged passages, as tended to crop up in some of the thickest-textured pieces, did not diminish the overall effect.

The fourth prelude of the first set had a fine quality of stillness and feel for rubato. Trudel luxuriated in the sensuous mix of voices in the sixth prelude and captured the perpetual motion feeling of the ninth. The finale (No. 10) of opus 23 was a highlight of the program, with its sighing motif beautifully set out against its rich backdrop.

The 13 preludes of opus 32 offer more complex textures and rhythms. Trudel played the first with a kaleidoscopic sense of color and the second with an insistent flavor to the three-note main motif. The fourth was declamatory, with a controlled energy through to its murmuring close. The fifth had a delicate quality and a gossamer-like closing trill.

The moody 10th prelude was expansive and rich-voiced, combining power and sensitivity. The 12th has a Spanish flavor, with its accompanying figures recalling the sound of a guitar, and Trudel's playing was full of color and eloquence. The final prelude was forceful and energetic, rounding off a display of virtuosity and musicality that excited all who heard it.

“Let me put in a CD—I always give singers a CD of the session,” says Eric Trudel in his Hamden, Conn. studio. The studio is walled with scores, decorated with spare, impeccable French taste, and patrolled by a small gray-and-white cat who purrs contentedly as if to assure me that I’ve come to the right place for a coaching—and two minutes in, I can see that I have.