Joined by the Indianapolis Quartet, Drew Petersen brings two-year University of Indianapolis residency to an end

Drew Petersen completed his tenure as UIndy artist-in-residence.
The American Pianists Awards in 2017 went to Drew Petersen, a pianist who was already distinguished for youthful accomplishment when he vied for the prize. Now, his two-year period under the professional wing of the American Pianists Association is coming to an end. Part of the closure is rounding out his status as artist-in-residence at the University of Indianapolis, which he did Friday night in a concert featuring the UIndy-based Indianapolis Quartet.

The near-capacity audience in Ruth Lilly Performance Hall at the Chistel DeHaan Fine Arts Center immediately warmed to the 25-year-old musician, charmed by his performance of Enrique Granados' "Valses poeticos," an enchanting suite of delicately tinged waltzes. Petersen gave each of the seven movements, plus their framing by a prelude and coda, its individual character.

I won't say much more about either this performance or that of Schubert's Fantasy in C major ("Wanderer"), since both works were featured on his January recital at the Carmel Palladium and were reviewed here. It's worth mentioning  about the "Wanderer" Fantasy that the short-lived muddiness just before the Allegro finale two months ago was not repeated. There was nothing I detected Friday evening that did not meet the pristine standards of Petersen's usual playing. His interpretation of this piece suggested that he is fully sensitive to the dramatic feeling in Schubert's major works — an affinity that the composer was destined to see unsatisfied in his ambitions to notch a success on the operatic stage.

The piano-rich score of Robert Schumann's Quintet in E-flat major, op. 44, balanced the program nicely, and brought in the string quartet created at and supported by UIndy.  Members Zachary DePue and Joana Genova, violins; Michael Isaac Strauss, viola, and Austin Huntington, cello, have quickly forged an apparently unshakable bond as the ensemble completes three years in existence.

Petersen and the quartet displayed a fine balance of forces from the start, and the five musicians' interpretation of the opening Allegro brillante was notable for flexibility of tempo and a unanimity of "paragraphing" — a sense of the movement's units of significance and subtle changes of direction. The variety of dynamics and astute accentuation, along with detached phrasing, gave special life to the second movement, "in the manner of a march," as the designation reads.

The Scherzo was notable for the color and verve imparted to its two contrasting Trios. As for the finale, Petersen and the quintet dug confidently into its almost muscle-bound energy. At the same time, the contrasting material was not scanted as the music shifted into a mood of respite. As a form, the fugue became vestigial in the 19th century, but fugal episodes were still cultivated by Romantic composers, and they are an essential part of the impact the fourth movement makes here. The strength of each entry was smoothly coordinated, and the drive toward the double bar was as swift and precise as a Blue Angels maneuver. The audience's spirits soared along with the players'.


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