The opening of Beethoven's G Major Concerto must be one of the most nerve-wracking passages the concert pianist has to play. Absolutely alone -- without the safety net of the orchestra -- he must play one of the most poetic, reflective and meditative passages in the concerto literature, setting the mood for everything that follows. All the relaxation exercises in the world won't help one here. It takes courage, mastery and nerves of steel.
That Rudolf Firkusny played the opening beautifully last night when he performed with David Zinman and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Meyerhoff Hall came as no surprise. The Czech-born pianist has been playing this piece with distinction for six decades. He made one forget that the piano is a machine in which hammers strike steel strings. Firkusny has always had one of the most beautiful, non-percussive sounds in the business, and -- at 80 years of age -- he still does. He seemed to caress the keys and the sound that came out transfixed this listener's ears.
The rest of the performance did too. Age has taken amazingly little away from Firkusny. More than 30 years ago he struck one as one of the most efficient and reliable of pianists -- there was never any excess body motion -- and that efficiency has probably helped keep his mechanism in its superb condition. (It can't hurt that he's also in great physical condition -- he looks much younger than he is.) He still possesses one of the most beautiful and expressive of trills, enough sonority to dominate an orchestra and musical intelligence that has deepened over the