Charles Abramovic is the big catch who didn't get away. While pianists like Lang Lang and Marc-André Hamelin have moved on to other cities, Abramovic is steadfastly a Philadelphian after following one of his teachers, Harvey Wedeen, into the piano department at Temple University nearly three decades ago.
We are the beneficiaries. His physical manner does little to draw attention to itself, as was the case Wednesday night at his recital at the Curtis Institute for the Philadelphia Young Pianists' Academy, the summer program where he is teaching.
And yet - like Lang Lang and Hamelin - virtuosity abounded.
The dance-inspired pieces of the program's second half built both euphoria and the case for Abramovic as a pianist who can do anything. But virtuosity is about more than the fast and loud. It can also be in the service of erasing technical seams and solving problems without anyone knowing they ever existed. Haydn's Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/50 starts as small drops of rain, and the torrents that come later hardly create big hurdles. But if you listened to Abramovic's detail work - his articulation, his scrupulous way with the length of notes - you could hear him connecting lines and ideas far beyond what's obvious on the page.
In the seemingly improvised second movement, he suggested an instrument earlier than the Steinway grand before him. Moderating the tempo of the third movement made its jokey dead-end phrases more wry than comic.
You couldn't help think he was hearing an orchestra in his head while playing Brahms' Fantasien, Opus 116, the way he distinguished the moving bass-celli of the left hand and noble violins of the right in the middle section of the third movement, the "Capriccio in G Minor." Each movement came with a distinct characterization, like chapters in a fairy tale - gnomes, pale shadows, falling leaves (this is fantasy, after all) - capped by a crisp, urgent "Capriccio in D Minor."
Abramovic approaches each piece on its own terms, the sound appropriate to the period, which made the second half's tangos by Stravinsky, Betsy Jolas and Milko Kelemen particularly valuable beyond the dancerly starting point. The Kelemen was the very deconstruction of a tango, though every element was discernible, from the signature rhythm to a beautifully voluptuous melody. He found a pungent cimbalom sound in the Seven Balkan Dances of Marko Tajcevic.
The encore was startling in its unusually prosaic approach. Chopin's Nocturne in C Sharp Minor, Opus 27, No. 1 could not have been made more clear, so carefully and sensibly was it rendered. Personal charisma isn't the point, Abramovic seemed to argue; the composer has spoken, and performer need not shout.
Additional PYPA recitals: Douglas Humpherys, Aug. 13; Ching-Yun Hu and the Parker Quartet, Aug. 14; and Alon Goldstein, Aug. 16. www.pypa.info, 267-370-7597.