Ursula Oppens' piano recital last night at the Baltimore Museum of Art in the Chamber Music Society series was constructed with genuine intelligence. It presented the two solo piano works of Elliot Carter -- the Sonata of 1946 and the "Night Fantasies" of 1980 -- between pieces by Beethoven and Schumann, the composers who throw their considerable shadows over these pieces by the American composer.
That was in itself a clever programming idea, but Oppens took it a step farther. She performed the Fantasy in G Minor by Beethoven (a composer for the piano whom we think of in terms of sonatas) and the Sonata in G Minor by Schumann (whom we think of as a composer of fantasies).
It is the fantastic pieces of Schumann (particularly the "Kreisleriana" and the "Davidsbundlertanze"), of course, that inspired "Night Fantasies." Like those suites of Schumann, with their quicksilver changes of mood, ardent declamations, obsessively returning themes and not immediately obvious organization, "Night Fantasies" does not make easy listening. Its chirrupings and nocturnal flashes can easily collapse into incoherence. But Oppens' command of the notes and sympathy for the idiom (she helped to commission it and has long been identified with Carter's music) was such that the piece sounded not only cogent and brilliant but also lyrical and flowing.