Most pianists begin a recital with a piece that allows them to warm up a little, and gives the audience a chance to settle in.
Not Jason Hardink. He began his concert on Tuesday at Weill Recital Hall with Jason Eckardt’s “Echoes’ White Veil,” a dizzying, manic 12-minute work of almost stupefying difficulty. There is just a hint of hesitancy at the start, with percussively repeated notes and sputtered trills.
Then the music takes off — and how, with frenzied runs in each hand crisscrossing like strands of unhinged counterpoint, bursts of pummeling cluster chords leaping the length of the keyboard, and more. Some passages hint of avant-garde jazz, like an audacious Cecil Taylor improvisation, but with flintier modernist madness. This 1996 piece has become a calling card for Mr. Hardink, who played Mr. Eckardt’s score not just with command, but with abandon and remarkable clarity.
Mr. Hardink’s daunting selections reflected, he wrote in a program note, his interest in large-scale works from all eras that “lie at the limit of feasibility.” Last year he ran the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Test in Utah, and this recital was a pianistic endurance test.
There was a bit of relief when, after the Eckardt, he shifted the mood to play Book Two of Debussy’s “Images.” I wanted a little more nuance and milky sonorities in “Cloches à Travers les Feuilles.” But he brought welcome lucidity and rhythmic crispness to the music, especially the splashing murmurs and darting runs of “Poissons d’Or.”
With Xenaxis’s “Evryali” (1973), Mr. Hardink was back in testing-the-limits mode with a work that explores extremes of expression. There are constant shifts from obsessively repeated notes and chords, to wildly skittish bursts, to rhythmic episodes that almost — but never quite — slip into a marching groove. Yet somehow the piece comes across as a complete entity, as least as played here with such bright sound and stamina.
Liszt was a pioneer in pushing the bounds of what’s possible at the piano, especially in his Transcendental Études. Mr. Hardink played four of these. Other pianists have made these fiercely virtuosic pieces sound more rhapsodic and poetic. But Mr. Hardink dispatched them deftly. He ended with crystalline accounts of four pieces from Messiaen’s monumental cycle “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus.”
Mr. Hardink’s capacity for tenderness and grace came through in the ruminative, harmonically tart passages of these cosmic pieces. But, no surprise, he was at his best in the vehement dance “Regard de l’Esprit de Joie,” in which he captured spiritual ecstasy as, to quote Messiaen’s description, “a drunkenness, in the most extravagant sense.”
Even Mr. Hardink may have his limits: He played no encores. But what could follow such a program?