I associate a concert title like "By Request" with pops music, which I will usually run from at a quickening pace. But when those requests come from the open, informed ears of the Pianospheres audience, the resulting program is an exciting one full of heavy-hitting 20th century piano music.
The concert began with a robust presentation of the clever harmonic extensions of Stravinsky's Sérénade en la. This was contrasted by the delicate post-Feldman clouds of Beat Furrer's Voicelessness: The snow has no voice. I had never heard Furrer's music, so this was a wonderful surprise. After that was Ives' Some South-paw Pitching, Ligeti's White on White, and Maurice Ohana's Contrepoints libres. These three fantastic pieces, each full of their respective composer's musical personality, all ended in deliberately odd cadences, which Robson treated with an appropriately wry dismissal.
After intermission was Messiaen's typically exquisite L'Alouette lulu, Takemitsu's Raintree Sketch II, selections from Kurtág's Játékok, and Ades' concert paraphrase on Powder Her Face. I've heard quite a bit about Powder Her Face, but haven't actually heard the opera. This performance reminded me how much I really should hear the whole thing. Ades' extravagant suite was an exciting way to end the evening. It was both as an impressive performative feat and as a sweetly saturated barrage of musical ideas that it would be hard to follow with anything else.
The technical and expressive breadth of Mark Robson's playing is widely agreed upon - sometimes fantastically delicate, other times aggressive and sinewy. However, my favorite aspect of the concert was the programming. So many great pieces by some of my favorite 20th century composers were on this concert, it was almost overwhelming. Many chamber music concerts might sneak in one or two of these pieces, but this concert was like having the extraneous weight lifted to focus on the best parts.