Pianist Alon Goldstein performed an era-spanning program of animated piano music at the Baruch Performing Arts Center (BPAC) Oct. 22. Beginning with four selections from his large Scarlatti arsenal, he also offered thoughtful and frequently amusing commentary on the music. When a musician talks directly to the audience, it lightens the formal air that tends to hang over classical music, and that’s all to the good for listeners and artists alike.
Domenico Scarlatti’s astoundingly imaginative sonatas – there are 555 of them – can speak for themselves, of course. And I always appreciate hearing how different keyboardists interpret these works by a composer born in 1685, the same year as J.S. Bach.
Goldstein took a middle ground between the clockwork formalism some pianists apply to this music – perhaps in an effort to evoke the lesser dynamics of the harpsichord for which it was written – and the more romantic approach exemplified by Vladimir Horowitz.
Goldstein read K. 11 with pensive delicacy, carefully delineating each note while weaving a smooth imaginative tapestry out of the whole. Slightly excessive speed made K. 159 a little less satisfying, with overly distracting tempo breaks necessitated by quick changes in hand positions. But aside from that, his rubatos and tempo changes felt emotionally valid. Light, judicious use of the sustain pedal in K. 324 brought the harpsichord heritage to mind. The set closed with K. 120, whose over 100 hand crossings require almost superhuman dexterity and earned the pianist rousing applause.
Moving on to Beethoven, Goldstein first demonstrated the world of color differences produced by different keys, playing for a moment the opening bars of the “Moonlight” Sonata in C minor, instead of the unusual key of C sharp minor that the composer chose. The latter key gave it, in Goldstein’s words, “a color no one expected or heard before.”
He chose a relatively quick tempo for that famous opening movement. The effect, for me, was to suggest the music’s connection to the baroque lineage of J.S. Bach. I’d never thought about this before when hearing – or playing, as I did too often as a young piano student – this beloved and indeed over-played piece. It also brought to mind the songfulness of Mendelssohn and Schubert. I found it a really enlightening interpretation of a movement that’s often performed so slowly that it lands heavily on the soul.
The crisp syncopated rhythms of the second movement were equally effective. But the tempo got ahead of good intentions in the third movement’s piled-up arpeggios, which at times got muddy under the sustain pedal.
Stunning clarity returned in Janáček’s agonized Piano Sonata 1.X.190 “From the Street.” This protest piece from 1905 carries a painful sting, and Goldstein wielded it with force and precision. Moments of calm proved illusory amid the stormy first movement (“Foreboding”). The more solemn second (“Death”) only brought more pain in Goldstein’s insightful reading, though some relief as well after the first movement’s gut punch.
Wisely, he followed up with two Debussy Preludes. These carry their own unpredictable drama but in a dreamy style, full of airy colors and kaleidoscopic clusters.
The concert closed with impressive showpieces courtesy of Alberto Ginastera, the 20th-century Argentine composer whose work seems to be turning up on concert programs everywhere these days. Even the titles are fun: “Dance of the Old Herdsman” was racy and playfully intense, “Dance of the Delicate Maiden” softly romantic with delicate dissonances. Finally, assertive high spirits ruled in the tightly wound virtuosity of “Dance of the Arrogant Gaucho.”
For an encore, Goldstein gave us something perfect for a New York City audience: a piano transcription from Leonard Bernstein’s “Age of Anxiety” Symphony, loaded with wild pianistic jazziness and played masterfully. Visit Alon Goldstein’s website for upcoming concerts and BPAC’s site for its busy season of cultural events.