Who will replace the honored pianists?
IN many fields of performance - particularly violin and voice - there seems to be a dearth of younger talent to replace the veterans on the scene. Happily, in the area of piano this seems not to be the case. Four pianists passed through New York this season who prove that there is exceptional talent out there, being heard in all the musical capitals of the world. They are Murray Perahia, Zoltan Kocsis, Andras Schiff, and Philippe Bianconi.
Perahia is still young, though his staying power as a performing and recording artist has not been in question for many seasons now. His Carnegie Hall recital program last month was chosen mostly from strength, and included works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Berg.
He has been acclaimed around the world most prominently for his Mozart, and his CBS Masterworks recorded cycle of piano concertos has just been released on CD. Clearly, Perahia's Mozart remains among the best to be heard from the younger generations. In the Fantasy in D minor, K. 397, and in the 17th Sonata in D major, K. 576, Perahia's skillful balance between heart and mind, between sentiment and structure, was in particular evidence. And in the 18th Sonata of Beethoven (Op. 31, No. 3) the tensions and the unstinting steadiness of the fingerwork were admirable.
Perahia is not a vastly versatile artist. When he is in the romantic literature, he has to tailor the music to his rather limited dynamic and coloristic abilities. Grand statements tend to be out of his reach. Thus, in the very romantic Berg Sonata, Perahia was too restrained a classicist, with an eye on clarity of voice and lucidity of structure at the expense of mood and mystery. In the Op. 110 Beethoven Sonata (No. 21) - visionary music that points toward the romantic era - he pushed a bit too far in volume, only to find the sound turning rather glassy. Clearly the Perahia tonal palette is not the richest for music of this sort.
Zoltan Kocsis comes to life at the other end of the dynamic/interpretive spectrum from Perahia. His most acclaimed Philips recordings include works by Bart'ok and Rachmaninoff. His Carnegie recital in February offered a first half of Liszt, and Schubert's Sonata in A major (D. 959). Some grumbled that choosing Liszt's Fifth Hungarian Rhapsody, Ave Maria (``The Bells of Rome''), and the ``Grosses Konzertsolo'' was reveling too much in the lesser-known. But Kocsis feels this music with every fiber of his artistic being, bringing not just the virtuosic elements thrillingly to life, but the emotional and poetic content as well. In fact, of the young virtuosos currently on the international circuit, he is perhaps the only one who has a truly Lisztian soul.
His Schubert may not be to all tastes, but I found his somewhat rough-and-tumble approach to this late work invigorating and stimulating. Kocsis does not bring the super-elegance of other pianists to the score, but he clearly believes this to be vitally important music, and he communicates that conviction and that passion with eloquence and gusto.
Andras Schiff has been devoting a good deal of his time in the concert halls and the recording studios (for London Records) to the keyboard music of Bach. And in presenting the 24 preludes and fugues of the first part of the Well-Tempered Clavier on a Steinway, he was serving notice that he does not believe this music has to be the exclusive province of Baroque instrumental specialists.
Schiff relies on a vast array of touch, timbres, and colors to make the music live. He keeps the threads of the fugues all vividly active and individual, and he makes the grand variety of the preludes joyous, mysterious, or moody. At times, Schiff digs so deeply for content in the music that a basic singing line is sacrificed for other more startling effects. But, as heard one early March afternoon at Alice Tully Hall, this was engrossing, vital, and bewitching Bach.
Philippe Bianconi has recorded Schubert song cycles with Hermann Prey for Denon, but he is, to all intents and purposes, at the beginning of what promises to be an impressive career. His Carnegie recital earlier this month was under the sponsorship of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, of which he was the 1985 Silver Medalist. The opening Mozart (C minor, Sonata, K. 457) was scintillating, with energy and verve.
In the five pieces that comprise Ravel's ``Miroirs,'' he unerringly found the specific color and mood. Particularly impressive was the incessant drive of ``Alborada del gracioso'' and the astonishing clarity yet liquid beauty of ``Une barque sur l'oc'ean.''
Clearly, here was an ear that listened to the music as well as the imagery and made a gripping synthesis of the two.
His Liszt was excellent by any standards, without always attaining the levels of the Ravel. But in the ``Mephisto Waltz,'' Bianconi was able to make thunderous noises from the keyboard without resorting to ugliness or mere banging. And the hushed beauties of the ``Sonetti 47, 104, 123 del Petrarca'' revealed further facets of the musical gift made so evident in the Ravel. In all, Bianconi established himself as a young man full of instincts and sensitivities, and a clear sense of how to communicate them with maximum color and impact at the keyboard.