CAMBRIDGE — Call him indefatigable. In his Boston recital debut for the Celebrity Series at Longy School’s Pickman Hall Wednesday evening, 38-year-old French pianist Cédric Tiberghien blazed through a physically taxing program of Liszt, Szymanowski, and Ravel, nearly two hours of music, and then tossed off a pair of Debussy préludes as encores. Tiberghien’s technique is formidable, but it’s his intensity and poetic impulsiveness that catch the ear.
He began with Liszt’s “Années de pèlerinage — Suisse,” at nearly an hour a rare treat on recital programs. The opening “Chapelle de Guillaume Tell” resonated with his big tone, and he milked the modal hymn, which turns into a kind of anthem, for drama. There was no holding back in the eruptions here or in “Orage”; the emotion of the moment reigned everywhere, occasionally at the expense of architecture. Yet the centerpiece of Liszt’s Swiss pilgrimage “year,” the 16-minute “Vallée d’Obermann,” was a well-judged journey, from the brooding descending theme at the beginning to the unearthly E-major calm after the storm and then the unsettling question mark. And the bells of the concluding “Les cloches de Genève” were like twinkling stars.
“Masques,” which Szymanowski completed in 1916, is a trilogy: “Shéhérazade,” “Tantris le bouffon,” and “La sérénade de Don Juan.” Like Sheherazade, who had to keep her story going to keep her head, Tiberghien seemed to be making these pieces up as he went along, but he never lost the thread of the narrative, and he conveyed the lullaby quality of the end. You could hear the dogs barking at the disguised lover in “Tantris” (a kind of “Tristan” parody), and the one-note insistence of Don Juan’s return to his mirror before his abrupt departure, as if he had been caught in the act by a father or husband.
Ravel’s “Miroirs,” from 1905, sparkled in primary colors rather than pastels, with yearning night moths flitting about in “Noctuelles,” a sunlit marketplace for the jester’s morning dance in “Alborada del gracioso,” and more tender bells in “La vallée des cloches.” It wasn’t just those bells that knit the program together, but the mirror-like surfaces, the rippling arpeggios, the cascades and torrents, the hammer-like repeated notes, the Lisztian tremolandos, the elusive harmonies, the improvisatory structures, and the odd anticipations and reflections of Stravinsky’s “Petrouchka.”
Tiberghien hadn’t run out of fireworks, exploding through “Jeux d’artifice” before subsiding slightly with “La cathédrale engloutie.” If the latter didn’t quite knit together, it still bore the pianist’s gratifyingly individual stamp.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.