A few days later, Thibaudet was onstage at the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Southern California for a programme of PURE THIBAUDET! Replacing an indisposed Mauricio Pollini, he first serenaded the audience with familiar Chopin pieces – nocturnes, etudes, waltzes and preludes played with admirable subtlety and delicacy, and then proceeded to give a masterful accounting of the French repertoire. He traversed progressively unfamiliar territory as he went from Debussy to Satie and finally to Messiaen – with technical precision, clarity of tone, purity of emotion – amazingly, without losing the audience. Thibaudet gave physical meaning to the mostly abstract titles of three of Debussy’s Etudes: “For Chromatic Steps,” “For Compound Chords,” “For Octaves” and SATIE’s inventive pieces: “Gymnopedie No. 1,” “Gnossienne No. 7,” and “The Dreamy Fish.”
The evening’s piece de resistance was “Regard de l’Eglise d’Amour,” (Contemplation on the Church of Love) the final piece from Messiaen’s monumental “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus,” (20 Contemplations on the Infant Jesus), now becoming less of a rarity in American concert halls because pianists such as Thibaudet have added the work to their repertoire.
It is a daunting piece for the pianist because of the piece’s technical challenges, as well as for the audience because of the elements of dissonance and atonality inherent in contemporary music. But Thibaudet infused his playing with abundant color and an intensity of spirit that made Messiaen’s transcendent music of the spirit soar. The audience listenened – enthralled, and rewarded him with a long standing ovation. He graciously reciprocated with three encores: Liszt’s transcription of the hauntingly beautiful “Liebestod” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Debussy’s lyrical L’isle Joyeuse, and Duke Ellington’s rapid-fire “Jubilee Stomp” which again brought the audience, cheering, to their feet.
AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL…
…where he opened the Bowl’s 2003 classical season as guest soloist, with guest conductor Andreas Delfs conducting the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. This time he showcased LISZT’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, less familiar but a virtuoso piece just the same. Like LISZT’s FIRST (which Thibaudet has played in concert well over a hundred times, at least), the Second is a concerto in one movement; unlike the First in which four disparate themes define the concert’s muted subdivisions (equivalent to the movements in a symphony: allegro-adagio-scherzo-finale), the Second is less discernibly structured and plays out as a magical, free-flowing transformation of a melody into many subthemes. Thibaudet’s playing as always revealed his affection and respect for Liszt, and the effect even in this acoustically less than perfect setting was both kaleidoscopic (light striking bits of glass forming an endless variety of patterns often bursting into a riot of colors) and elegant. Bookended by a festive Prelude to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger as the opener and an exuberant Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, it made for a truly colorful opening night of “Symphony Under the Stars 2003.”
[Mr. Thibaudet began the 2003-2004 season in the opposite direction - West (where he opened the San Francisco Symphony season with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 in a gala concert that was jarred by the blare of a false fire alarm that interrupted Stravinsky's Firebird) to East (where he performed MESSIAEN's Turangalîla Symphony at Carnegie Hall with Christoph Eschenbach and the Philhadephia Orchestra].