Pianist George Lopez, Bowdoin College artist in residence, gave one of the most fascinating concerts of the season Saturday afternoon at Studzinski Recital Hall, including works from 2012 by Vineet Shende (b. 1972) and his childhood friend Carter Pann (b. 1972), who were in the audience.

The most revelatory work, however, was the “Piano Variations” of Aaron Copland, written in 1930, when the composer was experimenting with atonal and serial composition under the influence of Nadia Boulanger.

Copland devised combinations of four-note motifs based on Bach’s name and a similar one from the “Well Tempered Clavier,” with a wealth of musical invention surpassed only by Beethoven. While “Variations” contains a wealth of American idioms, it is sometimes sad to hear, since the composer is best known today for easily accessible ballet suites such as “Appalachian Spring.”

The program began with two works from 2007 by Italian composer Romeo Melloni, delicately lyrical salon pieces that seemed charmingly out of place in the 21st century. They were followed by “… at the cusp of dawn, a breath …” by Shende, an associate professor of music at Bowdoin.

His atmospheric tone poem, written for Lopez, is highly effective in its use of all the resources of the piano to paint a gradually developing picture of a dawn over Mexico, with flashes of a landscape like a Diego Rivera mural.

Aside from the Copland, the most accomplished work on the program was “Five Dance Preludes” for clarinet and piano, by Witold Lutoslowski (1913-94). The architecture of the individual dances, with a wry and rhythmically complex allegro giocoso as the keystone, was perfectly designed.

Lopez was ably assisted by clarinetist Mark Battle, an associate professor of physics at Bowdoin.

Although the Copland required the most technical skill at the piano – which Lopez has in abundance – the final works on the program, four pieces from “The Piano’s 12 Sides,” by Pann, were virtuosity run wild. They began with a Ravel-like “Silhouette,” galloped through a parody of “Finlandia” and ended with a “Grand Etude Fantasy” that can only be described as Percy Grainger meets the “Warsaw Concerto.”

It was fun, but as a game of pianistic “Can you top this?” it lasted too long. On a more serious note, it showed pianists in the audience that virtuosity is meaningless in itself.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be contacted at:

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