Against the darkened altar of St. Joseph's Monastery Church Sunday, pianist Eckart Heiligers played an exquisite trio of Haydn, Scriabin and Schumann sonatas and a slightly unchurchlike concoction by Heinz Holliger.
Seventy people applauded on their feet at recital's end, delighted to have been the first to hear Heiligers since he won the Yale Gordon Concerto Competition two days before at the Peabody Conservatory. They seemed to agree with series organizer Paul Jan Zdunek that Heiligers is somewhat of a "secret treasure' in Baltimore.
Heiligers is a soft-spoken 26-year-old German who had control over his music, self-confidence in his musicianship and a deft touch as when he reached into the piano strings to pluck deep notes, harp-like, from Holliger's "Elis: Three Night Pieces" (1961).
Zdunek, director of the Young Artist Concert series at the church at 3800 Frederick Ave., had asked Heiligers to fill in as a late replacement for Nicole Narboni, a pianist who had arm trouble. "I still can't believe he said yes on such short notice," Zdunek said.
The pianist showed he was up to the task in his second Baltimore recital since coming here a year and a half ago to study at the Peabody Conservatory with Leon Fleisher. Sunday he played his final-round Gordon contest pieces.
The bespectacled Heiligers led with almost bell-like tones in the allegro movement of Haydn's E-flat major Sonata. His bright scale runs were crisp, issuing lovely reverberations in the cavernous sanctuary. An adagio theme of one note-two notes-one note returned again and again in delightful refrain. Silent moments punctuated the extremely fast finale passages.
Scriabin's Sonata No. 5 done in one movement and Schumann's four-movement Sonata No. 2 in G minor were standard pieces receiving equally sensitive treatments. But the eye-opener was the fascinating 6-minute-long "Elis," described by the pianist beforehand as "heavenly pure something . . . it's hard to translate from the German." Not easy to describe, either. Loud karate-like attacks, oceans of silence and ethereal plinking tones helped reflect the death of Elis, mortal agony and ascension to heaven.
Heiligers, from Kleve, in North Rhine-Westphalia on the Netherlands border, said he prefers a balanced repertory, including Beethoven, of course. He plans on a recital and teaching career without heavy emphasis on competitions. He has already won several European contests including the Maria Callas competition in Athens, the G.B. Viotti contest in Vercelli, Italy, and the piano contest of the Robert Schumann Institute in Duesseldorf. He was a prize winner in 1988 of the Gina Bachauer competition in Salt Lake City.
A conducting student at Peabody, Zdunek plans the free concert series for 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Contributions help pay for the rental of a piano. Performances by Peabody students continue Dec. 2 with a recital by Kathe Jarka, cello, and Marija Stroke, piano. On Feb. 10 is a young composers concert of the works of John Bowen, Daniel Crozier, Angela Raspa, Michael Twomey and Zdunek.
Later concerts are a Peabody Prep Celebration Concert March 10 and "A Child's Kingdom," a benefit concert April 14 with the Catholic Festival Choir, instrumentalists from the Peabody Conservatory and Zdunek conducting. For information call 529-5167 or 566-0877.