Solid Fare Served Up By Pianist

February 07, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Clive Swansbourne is a 37-year-old pianist whose "curriculum vitae" includes a diploma from London's Royal College of Music and a stint at Yale studying with Claude Frank, one of America's great exponents of the Beethoven piano sonatas.

Swansbourne's base of operations isIdaho State University, where he is a resident artist. He maintains a busy schedule of recitals, chamber concerts and master classes across the United States and Canada.

One of these concerts was presented at North County High School Saturday evening under the auspices of the Performing Arts Associationof Linthicum. And a very pleasant recital it was.

While many pianists squirm, grimace and swoon at the keyboard, Swansbourne goes about his business with a minimum of contortive fuss. No wasted motion here.

And he amiably discusses his repertoire with his audience in the low-key manner of a well-intentioned British preceptor.

But what comes through loud and clear is his palpable love of playing the piano for an appreciative audience.

Swansbourne is not an undiscovered Rubinstein waiting to happen. But he is a solid, well-prepared artist with something to say who braved the noisy ventilation system of a cavernous high school auditorium and a Baldwin concert grand that has seen better days to further the cause of great music.

His audiences don't get cheated. Saturday's program featured five of the delightful minisonatas of Domenico Scarlatti, the A-flat Major and F-minorBallades of Chopin, Chopin's "Aeolian Harp" Etude, a pair of Debussyminiatures, two Preludes and the swaggering D-major "Etude Tableau" of Rachmaninov, one of Schubert's "Moments Musicaux" and -- oh yeah -- Beethoven's "Appassionata Sonata" tossed in for good measure. Whew!

There was much to admire.

I enjoyed Swansbourne's "cool-as-a-cucumber" account of Scarlatti's K-380, which served as a delightful foil for the tempestuous D-minor and frisky G-major sonatas that followed.

Of the Scarlatti sonatas, only the K-531 (also in E Major) failed to take off, held earthbound by some distracting inaccuracies.

Swansbourne's Chopin is muscular and assertive without many traces of the perfumed elegance that often passes for feeling in the Ballades and Etudes. The A-flat Ballade, though less than immaculate technically (he has a lot of good company there), was thrilling. The more intimate Chopin made an appearance in the "Aeolian Harp" Etude in whichthe gentle treble melodies sang sweetly over the undulating harmonies of the left hand.

Swansbourne's Rachmaninov is powerful and deeply felt, and I also liked his Debussy very much. In the excerpts fromthe Book Two Preludes and the "Images," the pianist achieved colors that were lucid and undrippy. Debussy often inspires pianists to stress the languid elements that create runny, rather dreamy hues. But I had the feeling that this was Debussy with a "no wet paint" sign hungon it, and I found it admirably direct and expressive.

The "Appassionata," however, seemed more a "good try" than an ultimately memorable performance. The organic flow that makes Beethoven's torrential passions seem so inexorable never quite materialized, and one was leftwith a succession of episodes instead of a transcendent whole. Inflections sometimes seemed more geared to pianistic survival than to theillumination of Beethoven's stormy emotional path.

But with Scarlatti, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Debussy, Clive Swansbourne's recital was another enjoyable presentation on the estimable PAAL concert series.

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