Chopin's Scherzo No. 2, which opened the recital by gifted Russian Israeli pianist Victor Goldberg at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday, was a volatile affair of spiky right-hand accents and roiling figures in the left hand that would turn on a dime to quiet introspection. If the reading that followed, Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 9, seemed at first to offer more classical restraint, it was of an oddly compromised sort. Goldberg's phrasing wasn't any less molded or dramatic. It was simply as if some kind of audio-limiter switch had gone off, causing the pianist to pull back the volume at climactic moments.
If Goldberg felt hampered in giving free rein to his romantic instincts in Mozart's writing, he clearly didn't feel any muffling of dynamics was needed in Scriabin's Piano Sonata No. 5, which played beautifully into his emotionally frank style. The composer's chromatically rich writing and tonally ambiguous clouds of color were tellingly delivered, and the pianist had technique to burn in the lightning-fast writing. It was a shame that the West Garden Court's ample acoustic - dramatically effective when portentous chords needed to hang in the air - turned much of the score's scintillating detail into aural soup. Saving the best for last, Goldberg turned in a performance of Brahms's Handel Variations that mined the piece for the widest range of expressive color. Crisp in its neo-baroque variations and broodingly romantic in others, this was a young composer's music infused with all the youthful energy and feeling it demanded.