International soloists and notable American names
One of the unique aspects of New York's musical life is being able to hear so many splendid artists in the course of a year. In a recent 10-day span, I was able to hear six pianists - three of the world's outstanding international soloists, and three of America's most notable names of the day. Vladimir Ashkenazy
Ashkenazy is not tall. He is no imposing figure when seated at the piano. From this unlikely-looking source flows one of the great techniques at the service of an interpreter of trenchant, heartfelt persuasion. He can conjure up startling reserves of power, yet is more than willing to explore and exploit the quiet end of the dynamic spectrum as well.
His well-structured Carnegie Hall recital program featured two Schubert pieces for piano: Op. Post. D. 946, and the Fantasy in C Minor, Op. 15, D. 760 (''Der Wanderer''), followed by two Chopin Nocturnes (Op. 27, Nos. 1 & 2), and Chopin's Third Sonata in B minor Op. 58. Ashkenazy triumphed in the ''Wanderer'' Fantasy - a piece that defeats even renowned Schubertians.
This odd mix of pre-Lisztian derring-do and pure Schubertian dramatic development tests digital dexterity to extreme limits, demands tonal control of the fullest yet subtlest variety, and necessitates an intimate knowledge of Schubert's piano music to make the piece sound like anything more than empty flashy rhetoric.
Ashkenazy's gifts as one of the finest Chopin players of the day were readily evident, particularly in the haunting quietude of the second Nocturne.
Last February he proved equally at home in the titanic realm of Brahms as well. He and Andre Previn (leading the Philadelphia Orchestra) offered one of the finest accounts of the Brahms B-flat Major Concerto (No. 2, Op. 83) I have ever heard. Not only did the performance scale Olympian heights, but the aching sadness of the third-movement Andante truly touched the heart. Maurizio Pollini
Pollini is that rarity among today's star pianists - a man for whom modern music is as crucial to his performing well-being as are the classics, be it Beethoven or Boulez, Schubert, or Schonberg. His programs are uncompromising (and controversial), his stage manner ut-terly unprepos-sessing. At one time, walkouts were common at Pollini events, but now his audiences are getting used to his musical tastes and are willing to listen.
At a recent Avery Fisher Hall recital under the ''Great Performers at Lincoln Center'' umbrella, he offered a programof Beethoven's ''Diabelli Variations,'' Webern's Variations, Op. 27, and the tenth Klavierstuck of Stockhausen. Pollini scrutinizes each piece he chooses to play and presents it as something both well structured and meaningful.
In the case of the Diabelli, the cogency of his musical argument, the ability to play the most involved passages without a technical worry, and the ever-deepening desire to reach an audience on an emotional as well as intellectual level made for a spellbinding 50 minutes. The Webern Variations were played as beautifully as one will ever hear.
Stockhausen's 23-minute affair involves fists, forearms, and knuckle-glissandos, as well as super-virtuoso fingers. It devolves into redundancy and tedium, but it was vividly performed. The first of his two encores was the Six Little Piano Pieces Op. 19 of Schonberg.
Concessions he does not make, but for those willing to stick with him and willing to be persuaded by 20th-century music (as well as the more established repertoire), the rewards are rich. Alicia de Larrocha
Like the two colleagues just described, Miss de Larrocha puts no store on stage glamour. Rather, she makes touching, profound music. Her ''Great Performers'' recital at Avery Fisher Hall featured music by Granados, de Falla, and Chopin. She is a legend in her time when it comes to Spanish music, and the de Falla in particular - the rarely encountered ''Fantasia betica'' - was a bewitching study in colors and moods.
This renowned Mozart interpreter is equally at home in the world of Chopin. Her account of the 24 Preludes stressed the lyric, the introverted, the understated. This is not to say that she rendered everything in a sudsy or saccharine fashion. Rather, when flashy passages could have been exploited, she chose to find musical meaning instead.
In a performance of the Beethoven Third Piano Concerto with Rafael Kubelik and the New York Philharmonic, she positively thrived on the nonexploitative.
Miss de Larrocha remains one of the very special artists in the exalted pantheon of today's greats. She veritably makes one forget the cares of the world and exult in the communicative possibilities of music. Ohlsson, Watts & Browning
Garrick Ohlsson has been building his career slowly and surely. Since winning the Chopin Competition 12 years ago, he has gained in repertoire and in interpretive acumen. In fact, he seems to have outgrown (or perhaps just overdone) Chopin on the basis of his ''Great Performers'' recital at Alice Tully Hall. A mechanical quality pervaded his playing of the Chopin works that made up the first half of his program.
But after the intermission, he astounded his audience with a superb account of the Mozart K. 330 C-major Sonata and some bewitching, exciting, and moody Scriabin. In the second half of the program he proved that he is an outstanding and thoughtful musician as well as a superb pianist, one with ideas that can only become more intriguing as he gains in experience and age.
Andre Watts is celebrating his 20th anniversary as a performer this year. His Carnegie Hall recital was a generous sampling of the sort of pianism that has been his trademark. Few pianists have such a strong rich sound, such utter strength and clarity in the fingers, and a winning variety of colors and dynamics. That it all serves a less-than-probing musical mind seems almost unimportant in the presence of such technical panache. He cuts a dashing figure at the keyboard, and he knows how to build a fine climax, and caress a simple phrase, be it in Liszt or Schubert, Debussy or Bach.
John Browning's career is on something of a rebound after years of spotty visibility. His Carnegie Hall recital offered Debussy, Ravel, and Liszt, to give us a sense of his qualities as a performer - qualities that speak of sincerity and integrity.