photo: Sam Haywood

photo: Sam Haywood

Pianist Sam Haywood displays lyrical sensitivity in a recital at the Kennedy Center

By Grace Jean June 1, 2014

Pianist Sam Haywood is perhaps best known for his work as a chamber musician, performing globally with the likes of violinist Joshua Bell and other collaborators. But on Saturday, the British pianist stepped into the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater’s spotlight for his long-awaited U.S. solo debut — presented by the Washington Performing Arts — during which he dazzled with an artistic recital that proved he belongs center stage.

With a lyrical sensitivity honed by his chamber-music performances, Haywood creates melodies scaled to perfection against a patina of swirling accompaniment, a talent showcased in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2. Coupled with his dynamic pianism, Haywood commanded an orchestral palette on the Steinway, which served him well in five selections from Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “A Prole Do Bebe” Book I (The Dolls). Infused with a touch of humor, his evocative playing brought each doll to life, from a sprightly porcelain to a frenetic clown to a mischievous witch and a rag doll with a bittersweet lament.

Haywood’s penchant for exploring scores in detail translates into a journey of discovery for both player and listener in performance. This quality dominated his program’s second half, devoted to Chopin and the Russian composer Julius Isserlis, whose Ballade No. 2 in E-flat Minor, Op. 3 — a gem rediscovered by Haywood — received its U.S. debut. But it was in the Chopin, via a mercurial Ballade, a dramatic Scherzo, an angelic Nocturne and a robust Polonaise, that Haywood revealed his emotional depths and technical facility — and whetted Washington’s appetite for more.