It was easy on Saturday afternoon in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall to hear how and why the judges in the 1977 Cliburn Competition in Fort Worth awarded first prize of $10,000 to pianist Steven DeGroote.
In a pair of preludes and fugues from the "Well-Tempered Clavier" by Bach, there was notable articulation, even in tempos that were, in the G Major pair of Book One, too fast. In the contemplative B Minor pieces from the same book, DeGroote explored the amazing length of the fugue subject and played with remarkable beauty of sound.
In the 10 pieces that Prokofiev extracted from his "Romeo and Juliet" ballet, DeGroote had every nuance in tempo, and the flowing style of the dance. And in gradations of sound he achieved subtleties few of his contemporaries even approach.
Indeed, so sensitive was his touch on keys and pedals alike, that he seemed to present new concepts of touch.
All of these traits continued as he played Beethoven's "Waldstein Sonata." Rarely have the first two movements been played at a pace so rightly unhurried, the brief, slow middle movement being the revelation it is meant to be. The pedaling in the finale was flawless.