Gutierrez masters Schumann's maze

February 04, 1997|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Robert Schumann referred to his "Humoresque" as "28 sheets composed in a week." It is indeed a piece that sounds spontaneous enough to be a musical equivalent to the stream-of-consciousness style that Joyce used for Molly Bloom's soliloquy in "Ulysses."

That style makes it the most difficult of Schumann's great works for the piano to perform and to listen to, and it was almost entirely absent from Western concert halls until the early 1960s, when a remarkable recording by Sviatoslav Richter began to circulate. That recording made a great impression among some of the best young pianists who were still conservatory students in the '60s -- Radu Lupu, Richard Goode, Andras Schiff and Horacio Gutierrez, among them -- and in the past few years, it has begun to turn up on their programs.

Sunday evening, Gutierrez played the "Humoresque" at Kraushaar Auditorium in Goucher College's annual Ruth Rosenberg Memorial recital-lecture. It was a performance that suggested that Gutierrez, whom many consider this country's finest pianist, has the measure of this difficult music better than anyone since Richter was in his prime.

Schumann's music is always technically challenging, but what makes the "Humoresque" so much more difficult than pieces such as the "Symphonic Etudes" or the Fantasy in C Major is that it does not obey the laws of logic and has no discernible form. If the "Humoresque" has any logic at all, as Gutierrez noted in a fascinating post-concert discussion with Tom Hall, it is the logic of the composer's own emotions. If a pianist is to make the piece lucid to an audience, he must completely inhabit the work, making the audience feel as if it were privy to the act of creation itself.

That is exactly what Gutierrez did. Instead of feeling lost in the work's emotional labyrinth of mercurial twists and turns, the listener felt secure that the pianist possessed the Ariadne's thread that would bring both of them safely through the composer's maze. There were also the pianist's remarkable fingers, which left him free to concentrate on anything -- whether bringing out an inner voice or emphasizing a turn of phrase -- that his brain desired.

The pianist's virtuosity and imagination produced remarkable results elsewhere on the program. There was Haydn's witty and elegant Sonata in C Major, which Gutierrez played with extraordinary refinement and delicacy and with phrasing and articulation that were a perpetual source of pleasure. Finally, there was Liszt's B Minor Sonata, in which the pianist called upon his amazing dynamic range and variety of color in a performance that was awesome in its sense of drama and thrilling in its brilliance.

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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