I had three things to be excited about on Friday evening: seeing Fazıl Say in a solo recital – which I hadn’t done in 4 years, going to Zorlu Center – Istanbul’s newest and, according to reports, most modern and acoustically pleasing concert hall. The third is private.

As it turns out, all but one of them turned out to be worth the anticipation. The weak link here was Fazıl Say, the performer for this evening in a program called “Fazıl Say Plays Chopin”. His interpretation of Chopin’s Sonata no. 2 in B flat minor and selection of Nocturnes was mostly aimless, haphazard and ultimately boring.

It was an unsatisfactory evening, yes, but at least there were the two last-minute additions to honor Wagner Year 2013 – which ended up being the finest minutes of the evening, in lieu of a couple of nocturnes that were dropped to make space. The first piece was by Fazıl Say, who has proved himself to be a composer in his own right. Nietzsche and Wagner is his 48th published work, as a matter of fact, and it is made up of two miniature character pieces, one for the philosopher/composer and the other for the composer/philosopher. “Nietzsche” is a fast and rhythmic piece that feels improvisatory in nature. The music felt like a struggle between the low and high registers, the left and the right hand, Nietzsche’s Apollonian and Dionysian principles. It features relentless octaves in the right hand against a neurotic bass line, sometimes in unison and sometimes juxtaposed with a pinch or two of Say’s signature embellishments: plucking of the piano strings, single-note trills, fast and short treble runs, and a healthy dose of foot stomping. “Wagner”, on the other hand is, an exceedingly gentle episode, sounding almost like a berceuse. There are still passages of low/high contrasts but they are much less recognizable because of the pianissimo dynamics throughout the work. Character pieces seldom create the intended effect, but here it was easy to visualize Wagner –even if it was Cosima.

Fazıl Say’s program continued with Liszt’s Isoldens Liebestod, the composer’s masterful reduction of the famous Wagner opera. Say, here, was soft and affectionate but he still managed to foreshadow the ominous end by shrouding the music and the harmonies under a muted and muffled sound. The pianist showed his expertise in controlling dynamics, taking the music from 11 to 1 in an instant with no artificial aftereffects. His use of pedal, as well, was masterful at stopping the notes that crucially arrive at the page turns of the story. The only complaint I might have here was his kind-of-dry sound. I think this music has a lot to gain from a lusher, wider sense of panache.

The rest of the evening was, true to its title, Fazıl Say playing Chopin, albeit not to an agreeable degree by any measure. He started with the Second Piano Sonata. The Grave entry into the piece was loud and charged, establishing an expectation of heart pounding excitement to follow. What came next, however, was a Dopio that lacked thought and structure. Say hurried over passages, unable to properly end Chopin’s musical statements like a fast talker who swallows words. There didn’t seem to be an established tempo, which oozed an impression of control lost. Most of the movement’s lines were blurry, and most importantly, the music didn’t flow. Say’s Scherzo, unfortunately, did not fare any better. It was a disjointed mess giving undue credence to Chopin’s detractors of his time who claimed that the sonata lacked coherence. The pianist shifted gears during the Funeral March – not to first gear, though, but to reverse. His march was too slow by any standards I can come up with. The middle, nocturne-like, sweet melody was correspondingly played with each note prolonged to its maximum. I can fully sympathize with a pianist playing the music as he or she feels, but it should also be noted that, when that’s the case, they risk having an audience who feels a different way.

The second part of the evening featured six Chopin Nocturnes. Although some of them were better than the others, there was again too much hurriedness and little attention to detail in general. Say’s G minor nocturne was lively and whimsical but in the end ineffectual. The B major of Op. 32 and the C minor posthumous pieces were the better ones, both played within a framework that served the demands of both the composer and common sense. The F sharp minor of Op. 48, and the D flat major of Op. 27, however, were played completely out of character with, the transitions between major and minor modes that play a major role in both overlooked.

The final piece on the bill was the Berceuse, Op. 57. We finally heard some well-played Chopin in the concert’s last minutes. Its childlike, simple melodies and harmonies were displayed with all the technical demands met. Say did not try to make the piece any more complicated than it is, and by concentrating on the melodies rather than the music’s heavy ornaments, he at least ended the evening on a positive note.

Other positive overtones was Zorlu Center’s nice acoustics. I haven’t had a chance to listen to any orchestral music at the venue yet, but the stage seems to be built for it. It is wide, tall and spacious with what looks like carefully placed soundboards in an around.

The other one, again, is private.