Horacio Gutie'rrez is young, and no doubt the Cuban-American pianist will play again someday the Brahms Second Concerto that he performed at the Kennedy Center Saturday night. But he won't have to do that much better to be one of the mighty work's finest interpreters.
Right now Gutie'rrez already has a range of tonal luster -- from Brahms' most convulsive eruptions in the bass to the pearly treble legatos of the rapt slow movement -- that is a feast for the ear. Brahms asks an extraordinary lot of a pianist here. Most pianists expose a disconcerting feel of physical strain just grappling with the notes, and throw the natural poise of the music off in the process. It is precisely this poise that Gutie'rrez has so fully mastered.
Then, what was wrong Saturday night? Well, what was wrong was mostly in the orchestra, of which Brahms also asks an extraordinary amount. The touring Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, from Geneva, is not what you would call a Brahms orchestra. It is not fiery; it is not rich; it does not soar; it does not sing. What we heard, under conductor Horst Stein, was an opaque, matter-of-fact sound. Since Gutie'rrez has all these missing qualities in abundance, the impetus that grows from escalating give-and-take between pianist and orchestra failed to take form. As a result, even Gutie'rrez allowed himself a bit too much relaxation between one keyboard hurdle and another. He needs a tighter rein.
Also, there was Honegger's Third Symphony ("Liturgique"), a grim litany of World War II. It is all too seldom heard, and the Swiss are in our debt for bringing it here -- in a fine performance.